This year, Kamala Harris made history as the first Black woman to be sworn-in as Vice President of the United States. As she was sworn in, Kamala Harris donned an all-purple outfit in a nod to Shirley Chisholm, one of the first Black women to run for President. In four to eight years, Harris may try to finish what Chisholm started in 1972. As Vice President, Harris is positioned to make a serious run to become the first Black woman to serve as President of the United States. Before the day comes for Harris to decide whether or not to run for President again, let's look back at the Black women who paved the way for her.
At just 38 years old, Charlene Mitchell became the first Black woman to run for President. Entering the election as a member of the Community Party, she was accompanied by her running mate, Communist Party National Director Michael Zagarell. Though her campaign was stifled by a lack of resources and funding, she was able to garner attention through her speech and conviction. Mitchell's platform primarily revolved around securing the rights of marginalized and disenfranchised communities.
"The Communist Party supports all the demands of Black Power. We support the Black Panthers. But we think they stop short. You see, replacing white capitalism with black capitalism isn't going to solve the problems of poverty: the problems of poverty are rooted in the nature of capitalism itself," Mitchell told a crowd at the Frederick Douglas Bookstore in Boston.
Shirley Chisholm is one of the most influential politicians in modern American history. Not only did she inspire the outfit Kamala Harris wore on Inauguration Day, but she is also the first Black woman to run for President as a member of a major party. In 1972, she launched her campaign for President. While she fell short of reaching the White House, she did not fail to make history. Chisholm is also the first Black woman to serve in Congress. As a politician and activist, Chisholm was both powerful and inspiring.
"I had the honor of meeting Shirley Chisholm in her later years. She was small in stature but had a huge presence, speaking with strength and conviction. You would listen to her as you would your most revered grandmother," Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman told ELLE.
"Shirley Chisholm declared before it was cool, before people were really welcoming her in, that she was going to be unbought and unbossed. What that means to me is that you cannot be afraid, and you cannot be afraid to say no," Rep. Lauren Underwood added.
Four years after Shirley Chisholm ran for President, Margaret Wright did the same. Wright worked as a community activist and shipyard worker before running for President on the People's Party ticket in 1976. The Black Panther Party Education Minister ran alongside Benjamin Spock. The two pushed for education reform and racial equity. Ultimately, the duo pulled in nearly 50,000 votes.
Isabelle Masters is one of the most overlooked names in recent political history. The Topeka, Kansas native held a bachelors degree from Langston University before earning a doctorate degree from the University of Oklahoma during the Jim Crow era. She spent the majority of her life as an educator in four states. Her husband, Alfred Masters, was the first Black man to serve in the United States Marines Corps. Masters would go on to form her own political party and run for President five times. Her five presidential campaigns still stand as the record for any woman in the United States.
Lenora Fulani is an activist and psychologist who holds degrees from the City University of New York, Hofstra University and Columbia University. During the presidential election cycle of 1988, Fulani ran for office as a member o the New Alliance Party. By doing so, she became the first Black woman to appear on the ballot as a presidential candidate in all 50 states. As a result, she garnered more votes for president than any other Black person in U.S. history.
If Isabelle Masters set the pace by running for President five times, then Monica Moorehead is not far behind. As a member of the Workers World Party, Moorehead ran for President three times. Similar to Masters, Moorehead is also an activist and educator. She also shares similarities with Margaret Wright. As a high school student, she helped distribute newspapers for the Black Panther Party. To this day, Moorehead continues to fight for education reform and COVID-19 relief.
Angel Joy Chavis-Rocker
Angel Joy Chavis Rocker made history in 1999 when she initiated her campaign to become President of the United States. By doing so, she became the first Black woman to run for President as a Republican.
"We need to recruit a new breed of Republican," Chavis-Rocker told the Orlando Sentinel.
"My candidacy will force the Republican Party to look at itself and decide if it is a 'big tent' or not."
Her platform sounded very similar to that of Democrats today. She pushed for widespread medical care and more inclusive messaging to attract future Black and Latinx leaders. Chavis-Rocker's campaign was ultimately overlooked in favor of frontrunners like George W. Bush and John McCain.
"America's work values and ethics are taking hold in other parts of the world, but losing ground here," Chavis-Rocker added.
"We're not worried about winning. We're going to articulate the goals of African-Americans and all Americans."
She died just a few years after the 2000 presidential election.
Carol Moseley Braun
Carol Moseley Braun is a trailblazer that served in Congress for six years. In 1992, she became the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Twelve years later, she joined an elite group of Black women by running for President. Ultimately, she fell short of her goal when she lost to John Kerry in the Democratic Primary. More recently, Braun endorsed Joe Biden for President and began working as a visiting professor at Northwestern University.
After serving in Congress for a decade, Cynthia McKinney entered the race for President as a member of the Green Party in 2008. Earning less than 1% of the popular vote, she fell short of her goal. However, Barack Obama emerged victorious and became the first Black President in the United States of America. In recent years, the former congresswoman has been accused of spreading conspiracy theories.
In 2012, Peta Lindsay pushed the boundaries. Despite not being old enough to run for President, Lindsay launched a grassroots campaign. She sought to reform the education system and implement anti-war policy. Her campaign earned her a spot on the ballot in 13 states across the country.
Similar to our current Vice President, Lindsay is also a Howard University alum. She now works as the director of the Ida B. Wells Education Project.
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