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tv   Shirley Chisholm  CSPAN  January 21, 2019 10:04am-10:21am EST

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>> in 1968 shirley chisholm was elected to congress and ran for president in 1972. barbara winslow talking about her early life, political career and legacy in this 15-minute interview recorded at the american historical association's annual meeting. >> professor barbara 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 116th congress, many of the woman who had just been elected were photographed under her portrait which hangs in the capitol. >> what motivated her? why was she interested in politics and why was she elected? >> she was interested in politics beginning in college at
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brooklyn college. she was active in the naacp, she founded a black woman's sorority, she supported a woman who was running for president at brooklyn college, and she was active in the harriet tubman society. so she began her political activism as a college student. she got a job working in a day-care center but politics was her passion. and she got involved in brooklyn politics which at that time was all white and all male. and she worked with a number of local officials, 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, in the immigrant organizations, in the church organizations. she knew central brooklyn like the back of her hand and had the
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support of the women. so in 1960 she gets elected and goes to albany, and she's a very effective legislator. the legislation she is most proud of is called the s.e.e.k. 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. and that transformed the city university of new york, the various colleges, including her alma mater brooklyn college, from basically being all white to resembling more of the diversity of new york city. it was a fantastic accomplishment. >> did she grow up in brooklyn? >> she spent seven formative years on the island of barbados. and barbados i think was really
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transformative for her in many ways even though she was a young girl. she was raised mainly by her aunt and her grandmother, two stern but very loving and capable women. she also was in barbados at a moment where the struggle for barbadian independence begins, the struggle for labor rights begins. one of her uncles wrote for the black barbadian newspaper, and i am absolutely convinced that she had her racial and gender consciousness raised by those seven years in barbados. >> i wonder if you could put into perspective, though, 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 passed by president johnson 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, and it
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was as much of an earthquake as -- the only thing it almost -- that comes close to it was the election of alexandra ocasio-cortez, that is, wow, how did this happen? nobody thought it was going to happen except people in the borough of brooklyn. and 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 and male authority democratic leadership. she refused to sit on the agricultural committee because she said there's no agricultural in brooklyn. and when they said, well, there is a food stamp committee, they wouldn't put her on that. so she said, i won't serve on those committees, and she ended up serving on the veterans committee. they had to change the rules legislation because you weren't allowed to wear hats in congress. and she wore a hat when she was going to be sworn in so they had to change the rules. and she was not going to take
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any guff from these older white leaders. >> and they just changed the rules for this congress. you can wear religious garb in the florida house. >> yes, yes. >> what was she like as a person? >> everybody that i have interviewed -- and i run this project called the shirley chisholm project and have interviewed her, said she was very funny. she loved to dance. and when she wasn't on the floor of the house, she was a real cutup. she was very generous and she also was a shopaholic. if there had been computers, she would have been online shopping 23 hours a day. but everybody cited her wit, her intelligence, her debating skills and her incredible kindness and generosity. >> what about her personal life? >> she was married to a man by the name of conrad chisholm at this particular point in time. he was a jamaican immigrant and he was very, very protective of her and he did not mind being
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mr. shirley chisholm. they do divorce in the '80s and she re-marries. and her second husband -- who she does say was the love of her life -- was in a horrific car accident and died very young, and she was totally brokenhearted after that. >> 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 an outspoken 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 pieces of child-care legislation, and they were able to win over the majority in the senate and in
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the house for this legislation only to have richard nixon, the president, veto it, and he did because it would, quote, sovietize america's children, end quote. >> the democrats of course in control of the house. she was a democrat. carl albert, speaker of the house at the time, how did he view her? >> i think he viewed her as the biggest pain in the neck because she was always challenging them, always saying i'm not going to do that, i'm not going to do that, i'm not sitting on that committee. but after 1970 i think she decides i want to be a more effective legislator and she learns -- she was very, 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. >> why did she run for president? >> i think she ran -- or i know she says she ran for president because she felt there was an opening, there was a tremendous youth revolt.
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there was opposition to the war in vietnam. there was the women's movement. there were veterans who were active and there was nobody speaking for them. do i think she really had a realistic sense that she would win? no. and she said what she wanted to do was get delegate votes so she could go to the convention and make an impact. and she actually did. the only time the democratic party came out against capital punishment was in 1972 because the shirley chisholm delegation on the rules committee -- the platform committee, excuse me, changed the rules. i think the most effective legacy she had were the young people she inspired being barbara lee who's been in congress who started working for shirley chisholm when she was both a member of the black panther party and the president of the student government at mills college and a single mother. she inspired a whole generation of women, including me.
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i was in a women's group in seattle, and we sent her campaign $15. and let me tell you, in 1972 $15 was a lot of money for us. >> if you could ask her a question today, what would it be? >> i think it would be the question that everybody would ask her, how do you see your legacy? you know, you're now getting the fame and the acclaim and the acknowledgement that for a long time people didn't know who she was. my guess is she would also answer as she did in the wonderful shola lynch interview, i want to be as a catalyst for change and she was. >> her portrait is in the u.s. capitol, a statue also in the capitol. what does that represent? >> well, nancy pelosi made sure that this wonderful portrait of shirley chisholm is in the capitol building and it is situated in a place for every inauguration the entire inauguration parade including the president-elect, the congress, the joint chiefs of
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staff, the supreme court all have to walk past her portrait. there's always a portrait of her in the brooklyn borough president's office. and the mayor of new york city has just announced that the first statue to a woman is going to be of shirley chisholm in prospect park in brooklyn. and there's an official stamp that was inaugurated two years ago at the post office. >> how did she pass away? >> she died of old age outside of orlando. she spent the last -- i think the last five years of her life in orlando. after she left congress, she taught at mt. holyoke and a number of places. she was going to be nominated the ambassador to jamaica by bill clinton but she was frail then and so -- by the '90s i think it was she moved to florida. >> you talked about the obstacles, the old-boy network that she faced. what other obstacles did she have to overcome though? >> she always said that the biggest obstacle she faced was
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gender. of race and gender, it was gender the most. it was not just white men. there were men in congress who would sneer at her. i think at that point she made $59,000 as a member of the house of representatives, and these white men would go "59 thou" to her in the elevator. one legislator every time she would leave a committee seat and stand up and go out, he would have the seat washed. talk about racist humiliation. but she also did not get the support from african-american men, and when she ran for president whether -- most of the men in the black caucus did not support her. and there's a phrase that is said about hillary clinton, it's soon going to be said about elizabeth warren, i want a woman for president, just not this one, and that's what they said when shirley chisholm was running. we want a woman for president, just not this one. so she faced opposition from many men. not from all.
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she had the support of the black panther party and a young al sharpen, when he was a teenager, was her youth organizer in brooklyn and who -- if you ever hear him speak about shirley chisholm, it brings tears to your eyes. she really was a mentor for him. >> well, it's apparent 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. and when i talk about shirley chisholm whether it's in brooklyn college or the brooklyn public schools, young people are furious that they never knew anything about her. and the fact that they now know about this woman who looks like their grandmothers ran for president, it's an extraordinary -- it's an extraordinary experience. and the shirley chisholm project of brooklyn women's activism is now run by this woman equally
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passionate about shirley chisholm named zinga fraser and 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 what you can do. >> 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 crispus attucks, the first martyr of the american revelation, was from barbados. and barbados -- the sugar from barbados produced by barbadian slaves produced the wealth of new york city. so the barbados u.s. history connection i knew nothing about. so that was really exciting to learn.
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>> and finally i admit this is a speculative question, but 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'd also be very happy 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. >> 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 warmonger even though he pretends he's not. >> what about leader pelosi who is now speaker pelosi once again? >> i think she would be very
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proud of speaker pelosi and they would work together. they're -- they have very similar political aims. chisholm was in the left of the progressive wing of the democratic party as is speaker pelosi. >> barbara winslow, thank you for your time. >> you're watching american history tv only on c-span 3. the association for the study of african-american life and history known as asalh recently held it's 103rd meeting in indianapolis. next we hear a history of the smithsonian national museum of african-american history and culture from walter will wins. they also recognized the service of african-american veterans. it's about


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