Filmmaker Pays Tribute to Late Rep. Chisholm

Posted February 2, 2005 at 5:12pm

The late Rep. Shirley Chisholm was honored Wednesday in a tribute by a documentary filmmaker who chronicled the black New York Democrat’s 1972 presidential campaign.

Shola Lynch, producer and director of “Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed,” spoke at a gathering in the Hart Senate Office Building hosted by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

Lynch lamented that Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black person to run for a major party’s presidential nomination, had not been more prominently portrayed in the history books.

“When I went back to the books, she was only mentioned in passing,” Lynch said.

Chisholm died Jan. 1 after suffering several strokes. She was 80.

At the tribute, Lynch showed several clips from her film that showed Chisholm announcing her run for the presidency, news reports from the 1972 election, and commentary on the women’s rights movement in 1972.

Lynch also discussed Chisholm’s political strategy in the 1972 campaign — trying to collect delegates from non-winner-take-all states to bring to the convention. Although Chisholm failed to capture the nomination, Lynch maintains that Chisholm had a “viable political strategy.”

“Not only was this symbolic and made sense philosophically within our great democracy — she had a political strategy and she was a viable candidate,” Lynch said.

She also mentioned historical factors that made Chisholm’s run for the presidency possible, specifically the lowering of the voting age to 18, the long-term effects of the Civil Rights Act, the women’s rights movement and the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Lynch, who had previously worked with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns on his PBS series “Jazz,” pursued the documentary after hearing Chisholm’s birthday announced on NPR in 1999.

She recalled the difficulty of convincing Chisholm to participate in the project. Lynch said it was as if Chisholm had forgotten how much of an impact she had made.

“I filibustered her,” Lynch said of her early discussions with Chisholm. “I told her, ‘This is not about you or for you, this is for future generations.’”

Lynch emphasized what she sees as the need to preserve Chisholm’s story for future generations, adding that she hoped her documentary would encourage more historical scholarship of Chisholm. “What I hope is that this is the beginning of the conversation. There is room for scholarship on her and her political work,” she said.

Among those in attendance were Landscape Architect of the Capitol Matthew Evans and former Louisiana Rep. Catherine Long (D).

“You can’t help but wonder what might have been if she had been running today,” Evans said.

“It was wonderful. I was very proud of her. She’s entirely right that this would be lost if people don’t do these things,” Long said of Lynch’s determination to chronicle Chisholm’s campaign. “I think it’s a woman’s cultural thing, particularly with older women, to be self-effacing.”

She added that women are too often forgotten in historical accounts.

“We have been neglected,” Long said. “I’m not surprised she couldn’t find any books on Shirley Chisholm. I’m glad we’re catching up a bit.”