“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Two weeks ago, Mitch McConnell rebuked Senator Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor for daring to quote Coretta Scott King. In the wake of his comments on the incident, his admonishment “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” became a rallying cry across the internet. Men and women across the world highlighted the women who persisted, in the face of a system that tried to shut them out, and tell them to sit in the corner, mouth shut.
Today, I highlight one such woman, who was told to sit down, be quiet, and stay in place. Yet she did anything but, and our world is a better place for her.
That I am a national figure because I was the first person in 192 years to be at once a congressman, black, and a woman proves, I would think, that our society is not yet either just or free.
Shirley Chisholm was born November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. She was an educator, receiving her Masters from the Teacher’s College from Columbia University. A dedicated elementary educator, Chisholm acted as a consultant and director throughout New York as an authority on early child education, especially within the welfare system. This work led her into the political realm, where she served as a state legislator for three years.
By Roger Higgins, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
After this stint, she was elected to the US House of Representatives as the first black woman ever elected to the office in the 1968 election. In 1972, she was the first black person, needless to say black woman, to run for the presidency. It was a long shot bid for the White House, but her campaign elevated her stature and her voice to beyond her district in New York. And the legacy of not only this run but her 14 years in Congress solidified her reputation as a trailblazer.
By Photo: User:FA2010 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
She once stated “When I die, I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the twentieth century and who dared to be a catalyst of change. I don’t want to be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress. And I don’t even want to be remembered as the first woman who happened to be black to make a bid for the Presidency I want to be remembered as a woman who fought for change in the twentieth century. That’s what I want.”
After her death in 2005, Chisholm was remembered and honored as that catalyst, not only for her stature as a “first” but for her dedication and accomplishments, including her opposition to the draft, minimum wage legislation, advocacy for health care and social services, the fight for increase in education spending and a reduction of military spending during peacetime, and founding members of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
By Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Let us honor her, in her own words, her own quotes. Though these words were said decades ago, the validity and authenticity of the statements are no less powerful. And in that, it demonstrates how far we have to go in the fight for equality and justice.
You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.
Health is a human right, not a privilege to be purchased.
Congress seems drugged and inert most of the time… its idea of meeting a problem is to hold hearings or, in extreme cases, to appoint a commission.
I love America not for what she is, but for what she can become.
When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.
“I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That’s how I’d like to be remembered” she once said. And that is certainly how I remember Mrs. Chisholm. She was a fighter for us all.
Featured Image By Thomas J. O’Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports. Light restoration by Adam Cuerden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons