by Nancy Hamilton, Corresponding Secretary, and Diane Lebedeff, Recording Secretary
African American women have been remarkable women leaders in both politics and letters. At our February 2015 meeting, we saluted four such women.
Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005) represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983; by reason of her 1968 election, she was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. From 1977 to 1981, she was Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus. In 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Shirley Chisholm authored two books and, after her retirement from Congress, was a professor at Mount Holyoke College. One of her notable statements was: "In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing -- anti-humanism."
Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996) was an American politician and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. She was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.
Her 1976 convention speech is often regarded as one of the top 100 American speeches of all time. Many of her remarks still ring true today, such as this one: "But this is the great danger America faces. That we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual. Each seeking to satisfy private wants."
Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) was an American author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition.
Her poems are known for a lovely cadence; many can be found here. She shall be honored by a portrayal on a US "Forever" stamp.
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We close with this Maya Angelou observation: "in diversity, there is beauty and there is strength."