Chisholm recalled as a trailblazer for rights

Area leaders speak of the legacy of the former U.S. congresswoman.

Former U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm speaks to an African-American history class at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach on Jan. 23, 2002. Chisholm, an advocate for minority rights who became the first black woman elected to Congress and later the first black person to seek a major party's nomination for the U.S. presidency, died Saturday. She was 80.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 12:39 a.m.
When Shirley Chisholm made a campaign stop in Gainesville during the 1972 presidential primaries, the crowd that showed up filled not only the Waldo Road shopping center where she spoke, but the parking lot outside as well.
Of course, Chisholm wasn't just any candidate making a stump speak: Her campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination was the first time a black person had sought that position from a major party.
Chisholm, 80, died Saturday in Daytona Beach after an extended illness.
"I thought she was kind of a trailblazer because at that time it was not in the thinking of the average American that a woman would have the audacity to run for president," said the Rev. Thomas Wright, a Gainesville resident who was in the audience during Chisholm's visit. "She was a trailblazer for civil rights and African-Americans."
"There was no thought at that time that Colin Powell could become secretary of state," Wright said. "Where minorities were at that time, it was almost unthinkable to believe something like that could happen."
Wright said Chisholm, who also broke new ground in 1968 as the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, opened up the possibility for women and minorities to fill other governmental roles.
"A lot of people thought if Shirley Chisholm could do that, with her wisdom and humility, I could do that," Wright said.
County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, who most recently saw Chisholm when Chisholm was the keynote speaker at the Gainesville Susan B. Anthony Club's Women's Equality Day celebration in 2000, said the congresswoman was "a real lady" and she admired Chisholm for her oratory skills.
"I think she taught all of us that you can very quietly and succinctly get your point across, and people will forever understand where you stand on an issue," Chestnut said.
Though she was plainspoken, she had an ability to make her words resonate with her audience, said Ruth Brown, former president of the Alachua County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"I liked the way she was able to use the English language to actually project and reach into the hearts and minds of people," Brown said. "Some people get confused and start using words that really often do not hit the emotional bag. She was really good at making sure that all the folks understood what she was getting at."
Brown, who saw Chisholm speak several times while working with the civil rights movement in the Washington, D.C., area, said the congresswoman was able to connect with anyone who heard her speak.
"You got a real feeling that she understood the problem," Brown said. "That she not only understood the problem, she had suffered under the existing circumstances."
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or

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