The National Black Political Convention and Shirley Chisholm

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This newsclipping features a few of the leaders of the Gary convention: Rev. Walter Fauntroy (top left) was a Washington DC minister who had worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a congressman; Mayor Richard Hatcher was the first African American mayor of Gary, Indiana, and convention co-chairman; Rev. Jesse Jackson led the civil rights organization Operation PUSH, and Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, continued to be a champion of civil rights throughout her career. Rev. Jesse Jackson later reflected, on the importance of the convention: “Getting the right to vote in '65 was the beginning of a process, but the convention in Gary solidified the sense of focus. It was overwhelming.” Courtesy of Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections & Archives, Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University via California Digital Library.

The early 1970s was a turning point moment in which black political leaders sought to employ the legal gains of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power ideology towards a new era of black political empowerment at local, state, and federal levels. In 1972, as Shirley Chisholm ran for the Democratic Party nomination, the National Black Political Convention met in Gary, Indiana, bringing together thousands of delegates from black communities and organizations across the country to foster unity and determine a black political agenda by which current and future candidates for office would be assessed.

While both the convention and Chisholm’s candidacy represent landmark events, they were not necessarily politically coordinated. Chisholm was proud of her black identity, but she rejected the idea that she was the candidate solely representing the interests of black America. The convention, led by some of her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, did not endorse her. Some felt that Chisholm had run without consulting established black leadership and believed the first African American presidential candidate should have been a man. Many black leaders and officeholders endorsed George McGovern, though Chisholm’s platform most clearly aligned with the national black political agenda the convention had put forth.

While the alliance of various organizations that had made the National Black Political Convention possible dissolved amidst differing philosophies, the Gary convention had tangible results. The late 1970s and 1980s witnessed a rapid expansion of African American elected officials at the local, state, and congressional levels, including Shirley Chisholm’s reelection as Congresswoman, an office she held until 1983.