Shirley Chisholm and the 10 other gallant Black women who have run for president
In January 2021 when Kamala Harris was sworn in as first woman vice president of the U.S., Black women, who once upon a time had no chance to vote, not to speak of becoming president, saw one of their own a step away from the nation’s highest office. The daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris is currently not only the first woman vice president but also the first Black American and first South Asian American to hold the office.
For two decades in public life, Harris has achieved a lot of firsts: the first Black woman to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney, the first woman to be California’s attorney general, first Indian American senator, and now she is working by Joe Biden’s side after the latter picked her as his vice-presidential running mate.
But before becoming Biden’s running mate, Harris was his opponent in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, after she had disclosed her decision to run for president on January 21, 2019. Things were going smoothly until her campaign began to struggle due to internal staff rows. In December, she dropped out of the race. Today, Harris is among the many Black American women who have entered the running for the highest office in the nation in spite of the difficulties.
Until 1920 when Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, women didn’t have the right to vote in the U.S. Even after 1920, Black women were still barred from the polls in many states. Some Black female suffragists then joined the suffrage movement, and in the century that followed, they fought for the rights of their fellow women to vote in the midst of discrimination and racism. Then came the gallant Black female presidential candidates. Aside from Harris, the following are the Black women who have aimed for the highest office in the land:
Before Shirley Chisholm, 38-year-old Charlene Mitchell of Ohio was the first Black woman to run for president in 1968. She entered the 1968 presidential race on the Communist Party ticket with her running mate being Michael Zagarell, the party’s national youth director. Her campaign focused on poverty and civil rights but she failed to make it as many states at the time did not allow communists on the ballot. At the end of the day, she appeared on the ballot in two states, receiving just 1,075 votes. Being Black and female also didn’t get her the votes.
Pioneering African-American politician Shirley Chisholm is well known for becoming the first Black congresswoman in 1968, representing New York State in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven terms. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, to Guyanese and Barbadian parents, Chisholm ran for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency, making her the first African-American to seek a presidential nomination from a major political party. The political icon, throughout her career in politics, fought for social justice and education opportunities and although she did not emerge victorious in the presidential nomination race, she will be remembered for her perseverance in the wake of the attacks she received from a society that did not wholly enfranchise women and people of color. She died in 2005.
Wright was a shipyard worker during World War II and a community activist in Los Angeles, California. In 1976, four years after Chisholm’s bid, she ran for the presidency on the People’s Party ticket. Having been a Black Panther education minister, her campaign prioritized education reform and racial equality. The ticket received 49,016 votes. Wright passed away in 1996.
Masters, a teacher, created her own third party called Looking Back and ran in 1984, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. Her five presidential campaigns are the most for any woman in U.S. history. In 1996, her running mate was her daughter, Shirley Jean Masters. She passed away in September 2011.
Psychologist Lenora Fulani in 1988 became the first woman and the first African American to appear on the ballot in all 50 states. She ran as an independent and got more votes for president in a U.S. election than any other female presidential candidate before her. Fulani, who has been an advocate for structural political reform such as term limits and same-day voter registration, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of New York on the New Alliance Party (NAP) ticket in 1982.
Moorehead, of Workers World Party, ran for president in 1996, 2000 and 2016. In her 2016 campaign, she was asked how different her candidacy is from all the other left/socialist presidential campaigns. She replied: “We feel that our campaign is very unique from the point of view of showing class solidarity with the most oppressed, who are on the frontlines in the struggle against racist police violence, deportations and raids against immigrants, mass incarceration and for revolutionary socialism, which can only come about with the abolishment of capitalism.
“Another important aspect of our campaign is to help orient revolutionary activists on how to push the class struggle forward beyond the elections.”
Moorehead, born in Alabama during segregation, was politically active during her teenage years, distributing the Black Panther Party newspaper. She was banned from her high school band after refusing to play “Dixie” — a racist song.
Joy Chavis Rocker
When Rocker entered the 2000 presidential race, she became the first Black woman to run for president as a Republican. A school guidance counselor, she said at the time that her goal was to encourage Blacks to register as Republicans and vote. She also prioritized improving schools and supported “dismantling the Internal Revenue Service and replacing the current system with a flat tax.”
Carol Moseley Braun
She is well known as the American diplomat, lawyer and politician who represented Illinois in the United States Senate from 1993 to 1999. The first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, Braun was also the first African-American U.S. Senator from the Democratic Party. In 2004, she ran for president as a Democrat in the presidential election but lost the Democratic nomination to John Kerry.
Before running for president in 2008 on the ticket of the Green Party, McKinney represented a suburban district of Atlanta, Georgia, as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives for six terms. In 2008 when the liberal environmentalist Green Party nominated the former Congresswoman as its presidential candidate, it admitted that McKinney was a “long shot” for the White House, however, it believed that every vote she gets would help the party. “The United States needs an alternative party,” Green Party spokeswoman Scott McLarty said in 2008. “The narrow two-party system we have right now has not served us very well.”
Activist Lindsay was seven years short of the minimum age to be elected president when she ran for president in 2012 on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket. Her aim was to end the oppression and inequality in the U.S. political system. “When the banks said they needed money, the government came up with $700 billion. But when it comes to bailing out the people…” Lindsay left her sentence hanging during a 2012 interview. “The banks win, the corporations win, and the people lose.”
* You will receive the latest news and updates from AGR!