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BRIDGES: Unsung hero of Black History Month
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Shirley Chisholm — the first African-American woman elected to Congress — doesn’t get a great deal of recognition for her role in the history of American politics, but she should. She launched a bid for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 1972. (Chris Bridges | Special to The News)

With the month of February recognized as Black History Month, it is a good time to look back at a person who not only made history but helped clear a path for future political candidates and campaigns.

Shirley Chisholm doesn’t get a great deal of recognition for her role in the history of American politics, but she should. It was in 1972 that Chisholm launched a bid for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

Even before her historic bid for the presidency, Chisholm was already a historic political figure. She was the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968. It was a seat she would end up holding until 1983.

Her campaign for president saw her become the first African-American women to seek the nomination of one of the major parties. Her campaign was one that faced long, if not impossible, odds but she stayed in the race until the 1972 Democratic Party convention in Miami.

The 1972 Democratic primary had enough candidates that you needed both hands and both feet to count them all. U.S. Sen. George McGovern, former vice president Hubert Humphrey, Alabama governor George Wallace, U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills, North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford, New York Mayor John Lindsay, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy and U.S. Sen. Vance Hartke were the major players in the contest.

The nomination eventually went to McGovern although it was a race that went deep into the primary season.

Chisholm compiled more than 430,000 total votes and won the New Jersey primary. In the California primary, she compiled more than 150,000 votes. She never officially dropped out of the race until the convention where she had long discussionss with her delegates about whom they should support moving forward.

In a time when the Civil Rights movement was still fresh, Chisholm’s campaign was not always warmly greeted. It was reported she received death threats although it was not until after an attempt on Wallace’s life that she gained Secret Service protection.

Chisholm was also the first presidential candidate that year to visit Wallace while he was in the hospital having survived a would-be assassin’s bullets. It was a gesture that the long-time Alabama governor did not forget. Several years later, when Chisholm worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, Wallace helped gain votes of enough Southern congressmen to push the legislation through the House.

It was difficult for Chisholm to receive respect or support in her campaign from Democratic Party insiders. She was quoted as saying she was discriminated against more for being a woman than for being black. Her campaign motto of “Unbought and Unbossed” is still remembered today, decades after her campaign.

She made another piece of history in 1972 by becoming the first woman to appear in a presidential candidate debate although she gained access under threat of lawsuit.

Despite all of her historical achievements in 1972, Chisholm never ran for the White House again. She passed away on Jan. 1, 2005.

Chisholm paved for the way for future female candidates for president and vice president, regardless of party or color. Her place in history is firmly set but it still seems she is not truly credited for all she did 50 years ago.

While she didn’t get the nomination, there can be little arguing that she wouldn’t have fared any worse than McGovern did in the general election later in the fall of 1972.

Chris Bridges is a Monticello native and sports editor of The Walton Tribune. Reach him at