Before Jesse Jackson, before Barack Obama, there was Shirley Chisholm, the first African American to run for president of a major political party and the first black woman elected to Congress. Her congressional campaign slogan was as forthright as she was: "Unbossed and Unbought."
Just in time for Black History Month, the U.S. Postal Service honored Chisholm with a stamp as part of its Black Heritage Series. I normally don't exclaim over faces on a stamp--or Black History Month. I'm of the mind that black history should be taught 365 days a year, though I understand the racism and oppression that gave rise to Negro History Week in 1926 and now to a month in which we celebrate black achievements. However, I am moved to write about Chisholm because the postal service produced a powerful biographical video in conjunction with the stamp.
Her presidential campaign and grassroots politics spoke to the times. Winning over women and people of color at a time when feminism, civil rights and the poor people's movement were ascendant, Chisholm helped push open the doors of the Democratic Party at its landmark 1972 convention in Miami Beach. She lost the nomination to South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, but the convention has been recorded as among the party's most inclusive and democratic, with a small d. As for McGovern, Republican Richard Nixon trounced him in the general election.
Chisholm, who faced down death threats during her presidential bid, continued to represent her Brooklyn neighborhood in Congress for another decade. And she worked with groups like the National Organization for Women and the National Women's Political Caucus. She died in 2005.
For those of us who remember her steely resolve against a press corps and party establishment that sought to ignore her candidacy and those who know little about Chisholm, this video from the postal service captures her legacy and why she was called a pioneer.