The History Of Trailblazing Black Women In Presidential Campaigns


Nov. 2 2020, Published 2:15 a.m. ET

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Kamala Harris, the first African-American and first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General and Democratic vice presidential nominee for the 2020 election, is making history. Few women have come as close to obtaining such power within the American political realm, though many have tried. Specifically, a handful of Black women who received very little credit from the nation fought to evoke change on Capitol Hill. Even if you have not learned much of Shirley Chisholm, Charlotta Bass, and Charlene Mitchell in school, you have certainly felt and benefitted from their legacies.

Here are the Black women in presidential campaigns who paved the way for Kamala Harris –

Shirley Chisholm 

Shirley Chisholm challenged the perspective America had on women in power. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Chisholm was the oldest of four daughters to immigrant parents from the Caribbean. In 1946, she graduated from Brooklyn College where she won awards on the debate team. According to Women’s History, professors encouraged her to consider a political career, however Chisholm was aware that she faced a “double handicap” being both Black and a woman. Despite roadblocks, Chisholm eventually became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1969, representing the 12th district of New York. In 1972, she became the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for United States presidency from one of the two major political parties.

Discrimination followed her journey seeking the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Chisholm was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech. After a failed campaign and retiring from Congress in 1983, Chisholm co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women.

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Charlotta Bass

Born in South Carolina in 1874, less than a decade after the abolition of slavery, Charlotta Bass was destined to spark change. In 1952, Charlotta Bass made history as the first Black woman to run for Vice President. A Los Angeles journalist and activist, Bass aimed to seek justice and make societal alterations as part of the Progressive Party. According to Spectrum News, not only was she the editor of the California Eagle, the premiere Black newspaper on the West Coast, but she owned the building where the paper was published from 1912 until 1951. This makes Bass the first African-American woman to own and operate a newspaper in the United States, claims USA Today.

In 1952, Bass attempted a chance at the oval office as the vice-presidential candidate to lawyer Vincent Hallinan, who ran against Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Despite campaigning for months across the nation, they did not win. However, her party slogan can still be applied today: ‘Win or Lose: We win by raising the issues.

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Charlene Mitchell

Born in 1930 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Charlene Mitchell is among the most revolutionary women in history. According to AAIHS, both of her parents were born in the South and had moved northwards as part of the Great Migration in the beginning of the twentieth century. The article further states that her father was involved in local politics and joined the Communist Party, sparking Mitchell’s interest. During the 1950s and 1960s, Mitchell emerged as one of the party’s most influential leaders.

Despite the party’s declining influence, Mitchell remained a communist icon and respected organizer. In July of 1968, she was officially nominated as the presidential candidate for the communist party. AAIHS claims that her achievement did not fail to receive scrutiny as media outlets including the Boston Globe and the New York Times saw this as indicative of the party’s failure to produce a “serious” candidate. Even though her campaign did not beat the odds, her legacy remains so that forthcoming women can.

Black women have been at the forefront of social justice movements in American history, utilizing politics as a medium of change. However, the knowledge of their impact and credit for evoking change is often overlooked in mainstream American history. The names of those before us must always be remembered as they have paved the way for contemporary success.

“I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.” – Shirley Chisholm

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By: Desjah Altvater

Through Her Agenda, Desjah aims to interview groundbreaking women and uniquely cover the pop culture and entertainment verticals. When she isn't telling people how to pronounce her name, she can be found watching Abbott Elementary and keeping up with everything but the Kardashians.

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