Tuesday, November 6, 2012


"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (January 25, 1972)
On November 5, 1968 Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She served 7 terms (re-elected 6 times) until 1982 when she retired. Shirley Anita St. Hill was born on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents Charles St Hill and Ruby Seale St Hill were immigrants from British Guiana (father) and Barbados (mother.) The St Hill family struggled financially even with both parents working which eventually prompted Charles and Ruby to send their three little girls to live in the Caribbean. In 1927, the St. Hill children were sent to Barbados to live with their maternal grandmother Emaline Seale and returned to live with their parents in Brooklyn seven years later. On their return to Brooklyn in 1934 the St Hill children - now 4 since there was an addition to the family while the three older girls were living in Barbados - were academically ahead of their classmates as a result of the education they received in Barbados. In her 1970 published autobiography "Unbought and Unbossed” Chisholm stated: "Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason." Graduating from Girls’ High School in Brooklyn, New York she received scholarship offers to study at Vassar and Oberlin Colleges but choose to attend Brooklyn College. She earned her BA (Sociology) from Brooklyn College in 1946 and her MA in elementary education from Columbia University in 1952. She was director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in New York City from 1953 to 1959 and educational consultant for the Division of Day Care from 1959 to 1964. In 1964 Chisholm began her political career when she was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives defeating Republican candidate James Farmer. In 1971 she was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Chisholm would eventually make a bid to run for the position of President of the United States in 1972, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjIzxFL98Hg) becoming the first African American to do so. During her campaigns to be elected to the New York State Legislature, as Congresswoman and her Presidential bid Chisholm’s campaign manager and chief of staff was Guyanese born Wesley McDonald Holder (June 24, 1897- March 17, 1993) fondly known as the “Dean of Black Politics” in Brooklyn. Chisholm first met Holder during her student days in the 1950s. Not surprising since Chisholm’s father and Holder were both Garveyites (members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.) Holder was born in Buxton on the East Coast of Demerara in 1897 and immigrated to the USA in 1920. In an interesting coincidence, like Chisholm he had a Barbadian grandparent. His grandfather Samuel Holder (1827-1912) was born in Barbados and migrated to British Guiana as a young man. Holder was so much a part of the Brooklyn political scene (managing the campaigns of several politicians from the 1930s onwards) that in 1995 part of Schenectady Avenue between Lincoln Place and Park Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant was renamed "Dr. Wesley McDonald Holder Avenue."
Chisholm and Holder were obviously an unbeatable combination, probably that combined African/Barbadian/Guyanese work ethic and intelligence. Chisholm achieved several firsts and published two autobiographies both yielding many memorable quotes. In her autobiography “The Good Fight” published in 1973, she wrote: “In this country everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that's never been really true. I ran because most people think the country is not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate. The next time a woman runs, or a black (person), a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe he or she will be taken seriously from the start. The door is not open yet, but it is ajar." That was the case in 1972 and we marveled and celebrated when Barack Hussein Obama was elected the first African American President of the USA in 2008. The door was no longer just “ajar” it was “wide open” or so we thought. Mistakenly many of us thought it was the beginning of a post-racial American society. No such luck as we have witnessed the constant White supremacist attacks on the American First family including the attacks by the Tea Partiers and the Birthers. On November 6, 2012 America may re-elect its first African American President to a second term. Shirley Chisholm pushed the door in 1972 and left it “ajar.” Here we are 40 years later and it seems that it may need a battering ram to ensure that it is finally left open and not just “ajar” for future generations of those who do not fit the description Chisholm gave in one of her famous quotes: “The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920's. But Smith's nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male.” Past Presidential candidates may have been “wealthy” but seriously if Americans were really using the criteria of “good-looking white males” to elect as Presidents many of those who have been seeking to run in this election would be laughed out of the place and many who served as Presidents would not even have been nominated.

No comments: