Unbought and Unbossed: Shirley Chisholm, 1972

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In her presidential campaign announcement, Shirley Chisholm refused to accept the norms of party politics and predicted a new political future. She said, “I am not the candidate of any political bosses or fat cats or special interests. I am the candidate of the people of America. And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.” This photograph shows Chisholm at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, where she received 152 delegate votes, approximately ten percent of the total. Courtesy of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill via North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress and a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and National Women’s Political Caucus. As a congresswoman representing Brooklyn, New York, Chisholm advocated for programs such as Head Start, food stamps, and education. In 1972, one hundred years after Victoria Woodhull’s run, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American person to run for president and the second woman, following Smith, to seek a major party’s presidential nomination.

Shirley Chisholm announced her candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination in January 1972 and ran on an anti-war platform that championed marginalized groups such as minorities, blue collar workers, and inner-city families and promoted social and economic justice for poor and urban communities.  With her slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed,” Chisholm embraced her outsider status, rejecting the status quo of party politics that made financial backing and party approval political requisites.

Chisholm’s campaign received pushback from multiple angles, including among some African Americans who resented her gender and feminists who hesitated to endorse her because they did not think she would succeed. However, Chisholm campaigned throughout the primaries, winning votes in fourteen states, and earning 152 pledged delegates going into the Democratic convention. Chisholm was the most successful female presidential candidate to date but, like Smith, she looked ahead to others that would follow down the path she had helped to forge. She wrote, “The next time a woman runs, or a black, or a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’ to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start.”