Unbossed After All These Years

Posted January 15, 2010 at 3:39pm

There are many black leaders and feminists who have been credited with paving the way for Barack Obama’s and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s runs for the presidency. But there is one who often goes all but forgotten in those conversations, someone who made inroads in both areas and ran for the highest office long before Obama and Clinton had even set foot in the Senate.

Shirley Chisholm was a black woman who got her start in the gritty political world of New York City. She was prominent on the national political scene during the 1960s and 1970s, but now House staffer Scott Simpson is trying to bring her story to a present-day audience.

Until a few years ago, Simpson, deputy press secretary to Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), had never even heard of Chisholm. His first impressions of her came from promo spots for the 2005 documentary “Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed.—

Simpson watched the documentary and was eager to learn more about Chisholm. But he was disappointed when his search for information turned up practically nothing in terms of books or other documentation. So Simpson made it his goal to get Chisholm’s story out to more people.

“She moved mountains,— he said. “She broke barriers that allowed Hillary and Obama to run against her.—

Simpson devoted his own time to getting Chisholm’s autobiography, also named “Unbought and Unbossed,— rereleased. He reached out to her estate to get the rights to the book, and it is now available as the 40th anniversary edition. The updated version includes a forward by Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile.

Simpson said it was important to him to show the ongoing influence that Chisholm has had.

“I knew putting out the original wouldn’t be enough,— he said. “We needed to bring this to today.—

Brazile writes that if Chisholm, who died in 2005, had been alive to witness Obama’s election, she would have been “unfazed.—

“In many ways, her groundbreaking and historic 1972 presidential campaign helped to pave the way for the election of Barack Obama,— Brazile writes. “Mrs. Chisholm, like President Obama, ran not as a Black candidate but as a leader capable of inspiring a new generation of Americans to take their seats at the proverbial political table.—

Chisholm’s story is written in a straightforward, no-holds-barred style. She writes frankly about her strict upbringing, first by her grandmother in Barbados and later by her immigrant parents in Brooklyn.

She speaks frankly about her introduction to politics, as she became an activist during her years at Brooklyn College.

Though Simpson noted that Chisholm once said she didn’t want to be remembered as the first black woman to be elected to Congress or as the first black woman to run for president, it is clear that these aspects of her life were sensitive for her.

In an early chapter, Chisholm recalls having a debate with a professor, after which he tells her that she should go into politics. She replied: “You forget two things. I’m black — and I’m a woman.—

“You really have deep feelings about that, haven’t you?— he replied. That is apparently the first time that Chisholm realized just how deeply.

She goes on to write about her career as a teacher and as a politician. Chisholm was elected to the House in 1968 and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. She seems to write candidly and is open about occasional feelings of futility and despair about being able to make people see the injustices of the system.

In addition to rereleasing the book, Simpson has also started the Web site shirleychisholm.org, which he describes as an information center on the late lawmaker. “Unbought and Unbossed— can be purchased on the site and at most bookstores.

He said there is a “growing awareness— about Chisholm and the mark that she left on American politics.

“I think it’s going to open a lot of minds,— he said. “There is a hunger for it.—