Clash of Ideas
On JANUARY 25, 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm mounted the podium at Concord Baptist Church’s school auditorium in Brooklyn and declared herself a candidate for the presidency of the United States. Her small frame barely visible behind the podium, the candidate, who stood five feet tall and weighed barely one hundred pounds, was a heavyweight in the rough-and-tumble politics of central Brooklyn and a rising political star on the national stage. As the first black woman elected to Congress, Chisholm declared her candidacy for the presidency on her own terms: “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud,” Chisholm told the crowd of five hundred mostly black women. “I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country,” she continued, “although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that.” Chisholm proclaimed: “I am a candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”1 Chisholm’s announcement stands as the symbolic beginning of the long, winding, and complicated trek that led to the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president.
The actual path leading to the election of a black president started a few years earlier, in the mid-1960s, on the eve of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It was then that black leaders