This timely reissue of the autobiography of the New York Congresswoman and presidential contender, Shirley Chisholm, is a must read from an historical perspective. Originally published in 1970, the title is taken from her 1967 campaign slogan for Congress, “Unbought and Unbossed.” Mrs. Chisholm was not an ordinary politician of the day. She was outspoken as the first black woman political leader to crack the gender barrier of Washington politics. Her insight into Congressional politics, as well as descriptions of New York politics, will help the reader understand the roots of the current contentious federal legislation process. Her legacy is that she challenged the status quo for politics and civil rights. I recall clearly that her life touched mine when I was a young woman growing up in New York state in the 1960’s. This book is a lesson for young Americans today who are witnessing the acrimonious front page news of the divisiveness present in our political system.
Chisholm was both a genteel woman educated at a young age on the island of Barbados, and a scrappy fighter from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY. She described herself as the “little woman who didn’t know how to play the game or when to shut up.” Later she writes.” I don’t [play by the rules] because I don’t choose to. It is not because I don’t know what the rules are.” Her message of social equality was, and remains, strong as she presented it for future Americans.
I would have liked to see more of her “humanness.” I wanted more personal disclosures and revelations of emotional moments in her life that showed how she gained the confidence to confront societal norms of the day.
Part of this story was a scathing expose of NY politics, reminding me of biographies of the Kennedys in the context of Boston politics of the day. She asked the reader, “Can their jobs [Congressional leaders] be so important to them, their prestige, their power, their privileges so important that they will cooperate in the degradation of our society just to hang on to those jobs?”
Don’t be put off by the cover graphics. I thought at first the block-cut image made the book look like it was meant for high school audiences. That’s not all bad, since I do hope this book finds its way into the hands of young readers.
However, I suggest that readers of all ages will get an education on politics and the inside workings of our democratic processes, which can only be good for our country in these times. Thankfully her valiant efforts led to more representation of women and minorities on Capitol Hill today. We can certainly hope those politicians have the fortitude to uphold high standards of ethics and champion social justice just as Chisholm did.