The National Black Political Convention and Shirley Chisholm

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This March 1972 issue of Soul Force, the newsletter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, includes several articles focusing on black politics and the upcoming presidential election. In one article, Shirley Chisholm’s platform earns an “A” grade—the highest of any candidate—for its representation of causes and issues of importance to black communities. The following feature on the National Black Political Convention notes it was headed by the “cream of the black intelligentsia” and reports on various issues under consideration in establishing the black political agenda. However, the article also notes the convention’s controversial decision not to endorse any presidential candidates despite the alignment between the agenda and Chisholm’s platform. Courtesy of Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History via Digital Library of Georgia.

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.