tv Shirley Chisholm CSPAN January 27, 2019 9:30am-9:46am EST
lecture sunday. this is american historythis isy on c-span3. in 1968, shirley chisholm was the first african-american woman elected to the u.s. congress. and she ran for president in 1972. barbara winslow, founder of the shirley chisholm project, talks about her early life, political career, and legacy in this 15 minute interview at the american historical association's annual meeting. >> professor winslow, author of this book on shirley chisholm, who was she? >> she was among many things, the first african-american woman elected to congress from brooklyn in 1968. and, after the inauguration of the 116th congress, many of the women who had just been elected were photographed under her portrait which hangs in the capitol.
>> what motivated her? why was she elected? >> she was interested in politics beginning in college at brooklyn college. she was active in the naacp. she founded a black women's sorority. she supported a woman who was running for president at brooklyn college, and she was active in the harriet tubman society. she began her political activism as a college student. she got a job working in a day care center, but politics was her passion. she got involved in brooklyn politics which was at that time all white and all male. she worked with a number of local african-american, local officials, to transform the local democratic party so that it was led by african-americans. but it was all male. and she worked very closely with women, not only in the local
democratic party clubs, but in the social clubs and immigrant organizations, in the church organizations. she knew central brooklyn like the back of her hand. and had the support of the women. so, in 1960, she gets elected and goes to albany. she's a very effective legislator. the legislation she is most proud of is called the seek program -- seek education empowerment and knowledge. and this provided resources for high school students going to the city university of new york so that they could attend college and get the resources needed to stay in college and to graduate. that transformed the city university of new york, the various colleges, including her alma mater brooklyn college from being all white to resembling the diversity of new york city. a fantastic accomplishment.
>> did she grow up in brooklyn? >> she spent seven formative years on the island of barbados. barbados was transformative to her even though she was a young girl. she was raised mainly by her aunt and her grandmother, two loving and capable women. she also was in barbados at a moment where the struggle for independence begins. the struggle for labor rights begins. one of her uncles wrote for the black newspaper. and i am absolutely convinced that she had her racial and gender consciousness raised those years in barbados. host: put in perspective the significance of her election, she took office 50 years ago in 1969. elected in 1968. the civil rights movement was at its peak. the voting rights act signed
into law. what did it mean for her to be elected? >> well, it was the front page of "the new york times." prior to that, they never mentioned her by name. it was as much of an earthquake as the only thing that it almost comes, that close to it was the election of alexandria ocasio-ortez. nobody thought it was going to happen except people in the borough of brooklyn. she became a superstar almost immediately, thrust into the national spotlight. there's so many parallels to what has just happened recently. she challenged the white male authority, democratic leadership. she refused to sit on the agricultural community because she said there is no agriculture in brooklyn. and when they said, there is a food stamp committee they would not put her on that. she said i will not serve on those. she ended up serving on the veterans committee. they had to change the rules
legislation because you are not allowed to wear hats in congress. she wore a hat when she was going to be sworn in. they had to change the rules. she was not going to take any guff from these older white leaders. host: they just changed the rules for this congress, you can wear religious garb in the congress. what was she like? >> everybody who i've interviewed and i run this project called the shirley chisholm project, said she was a very funny, she loved to dance. and when she wasn't on the floor of the house she was a real cut up. she was very generous. and she also was a shop-a-holic. if there had been computers, she would been online shopping 23 hours a day. but everybody cited her wit, her intelligence, her debating skills, and her incredible kindness and generosity. host: what about her personal life?
>> she was married to a man by the name of conrad chisholm. he was a jamaican immigrant, and he was very, very protective of her. and he did not mind being mr. shirley chisholm. they do divorce in the 1980's and she remarries. her second husband, whom she does say was the love of her life, was in a horrific car accident and died very young. she was totally broken apart after that. host: her legacy in congress, what was it? >> i think her legacy in congress was that she was outspoken against the war in vietnam, and she refused to support any legislation for the military because she said war legislation should go to ending poverty. she was a spokesperson for women's rights and abortion rights, but because of her notoriety, she was not as effective a legislator as she had been in albany. but she and bella abzug worked on one of the most comprehensive
piece of childcare legislation, and they were able to win over the majority in the senate and in the house for this legislation only to have richard nixon, the president, veto it. he did because it would "sovietize america's children." host: the democrats in control. carl albert, the speaker at the time, how did he view her? >> i think he viewed her as the biggest pain in the neck. she was always challenging them. she was always saying i'm not going to do this, do that, sit on that committee. after 1970, i think she decides she wants to be a more effective legislator. she's very strategic and she learned the skills of who you support, who you don't support, and she actually made alliances with white southern legislators in order for them to appropriate money for her district. host: why did she run for president?
>> i know she says she ran for president because she felt there was an opening, there was a tremendous youth revolt, there was opposition to the war in vietnam, there was a women's moment. there were veterans who active and there was nobody speaking for them. do i think she had a realistic sense that she would win? no. she said what she wanted to do was to get delegate votes so she could go to conventions and make an impact. and she actually did. the only time the democratic party came out against capital punishment was in 1972 because the platform committee changed the rules. i think the most effective legacy she had was the young people she inspired including barbara lee, who started working for shirley chisholm when she
was a member of the black panther party and the student of government and a single mother. she inspired a whole generation of women, including me. i was in a women's group in seattle and we sent her campaign $15. let me tell you, in 1972, $15 was a lot of money for us. host: if you could ask her a question today, what would it be? >> i think it would be the question that everyone would ask her -- how do you see your legacy? you are now getting the fame and the acclaim and the that for a long time people did not know who she was. my guess is she would also answer is she did in the wonderful interview, i want to be seen as a catalyst for change and she was. host: her portrait is in the u.s. capitol. what does that represent? >> well, nancy pelosi made sure this wonderful portrait of shirley chisholm is in the capitol building, and it is
situated in a place that for every inauguration, the entire inauguration parade, including the president-elect, the congress, the joint chiefs of staff, the supreme court all have to walk past her portrait. there is also a portrait of her in the brooklyn borough president's office. and the mayor of new york city has just announced that the -- the first statue of a woman is going to be a shirley chisholm in prospect park. there's an official stamp it was inaugurated two years ago, also. host: how did she passed away? >> she died of old age outside of orlando. she spent the rest of her, i think the last five years of her life in orlando. after she left congress, she taught at mount holyoke and in a number of places. she was going to be nominated the ambassador to jamaica by bill clinton, but she was frail then. so, by the 1990's, she moved to florida.
host: you talk about the obstacles, the old boy network that she faced. what other obstacles did she have to overcome? >> she always said that the biggest obstacle she faced with gender. race and gender. gender the most. and it was not just white men. there were men in congress who would sneer at her. she made $59,000 as a member of the house of representatives. and these white men would go, $59,000 to her in the elevator. one legislator, every time she would stand up and go on, he would have the seat washed. talk about racist humiliation. she also did not get the support from african-american men. and, when she ran for president, whether it, most of the men in the black caucus did not support her. there's a phrase that is said about hillary clinton and will be said about elizabeth warren. i want a woman for president,
just not this one. that is what they said when shirley chisholm was running. we want a woman for president, just not this she faced one. opposition from many men. not from all. she had the support of the black panther party, and a young al sharpton when he was a teenager was her youth organizer in brooklyn. if you ever hear him speak about shirley chisholm, it brings tears to your eyes. she was a mentor for him. host: you are passionate about her. why? >> i think she's such an extraordinary woman. i also think that my passion for her has to do with the fact that she is an alum of brooklyn college where i teach. when i talk about shirley chisholm in the brooklyn public schools, young people are furious that they never knew anything about her. the fact that they now know about this woman, who looks like their grandmothers, ran for
president, it is an extraordinary, it's an extraordinary experience. and the shirley chisholm project and brooklyn women's activism is now run by this woman equally passionate about shirley chisholm named fraser. we're bringing her story alive, especially to young people, so that they can realize that you may be a working-class daughter of immigrants, woman of color, but look at what you can do host: when you put this book together, what surprised you the most? >> the story of barbados, to me, was the most interesting. i didn't know about the extraordinary connections between barbados and the united states. george washington, the only other country he visited was barbados. they believe the first martyr of the american revolution was from barbados. and barbados, the sugar from barbados produced by barbadian slaves produced the wealth of new york city.
so, the barbados, uh, u.s. history connection i knew nothing about. that was really exciting to learn. host: finally, this is a speculative question, if she were in the house of representatives with this new congress being sworn in, what do you think she would be thinking about? >> i think she would be so thrilled at this generation especially of young women who are in. she would just be thrilled and she would also be very happy i think that donna shalala at 77, i believe, also got elected. and, given how repulsed she was at richard nixon, i can only imagine how fraught she would be about the current president of the united states. host: how so? >> i think he represents everything she opposes. i think she would see him as, you know, an absolute white supremacist, the worst kind of misogynist, anti-immigrant, and
war mongerer, even though he pretends he's not. host: and what about leader pelosi, now speaker pelosi once again? >> i think she would be very proud of speaker pelosi and they would work together. they have very similar political aims. chisholm was on the left of the progressive wing of the democratic party, as is speaker pelosi. host: barbara winslow, thank you for your time. >> thank you. this was great. announcer: interested in american history? visit our website. tv schedule,our preview programs and watch college lectures, chores, films, and more. american history tv at c-span.org/history. year, c-span is touring cities across the country, exploring american history.