The Radical and the Racist

A very short book excerpt

Joe McKendry

Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, launched a bid for the presidency in 1972. In May of that year, she took a step that baffled supporters. After a would-be assassin shot George Wallace at point-blank range during a campaign appearance in Laurel, Maryland, Chisholm visited Wallace in the hospital to express her concern and sympathy. The gesture attracted widespread media attention and puzzled, to say the least, those who had followed Wallace’s career as one of the most vitriolic segregationists of his day. Chisholm wanted to convey, in part, her belief that it was important in a democracy to respect contrary opinions without “impugning the motives” and “maligning the character” of one’s opponents. To view it any other way, Chisholm argued, was to encourage “the same sickness in public life that leads to assassinations.”

Adapted from The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency, by Ellen Fitzpatrick, published in February by Harvard University Press