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Pressure S. Africa into equality, Chisholm says

ST. PETERSBURG - While rejoicing that Nelson Mandela is free, the United States must not misread the motives of the white South African president who freed him, said Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. "Don't let anyone fool you," Chisholm said during a visit to St. Petersburg on Tuesday. "Don't believe for one moment that President (Frederik) de Klerk, out of the bountifulness of his humanity, suddenly decided that he better move ahead and free Nelson Mandela.

"The fact is that the South African economy was feeling the pinch" of sanctions, she said.

The United States shouldn't let up on those sanctions until apartheid has been dismantled, as Congress originally agreed, she said.

This country hasn't done enough to fight apartheid as it is, she said.

"We never put our shoulders to the wheel with respect to South Africa, although we constantly speak about the fact that we believe in democracy, that we believe in the rule of the majority."

The problem is that the oppressed majority in South Africa is black and that the United States is still a racist country, she said.

Chisholm, who served 14 years in Congress and ran for president in 1972, talked about the events of the day with reporters before speaking Tuesday night at Eckerd College.

The veteran of the civil rights and women's movements lamented that the United States has to have a special Black History Month and said she is amazed in her travels at the lack of knowledge of blacks' role in building America.

"Racism will never be eased in America until and unless there's a mandatory type of education where the children during the first eight years of life ... (are) exposed to the contributions of all the wonderful different people that make up America," she told an enthusiastic crowd of about 450.

Change will be up to young people. Chisholm, 65, said she has given up on the older generation as "uptight and doctrinaire," just as she despaired of President Ronald Reagan. She hopes George Bush will be more flexible.

Chisholm, whose gray suit and silver blouse set off the silver in her hair, said she is spending her time these days lecturing and writing - although she noted, to wild applause, that she is brighter and more articulate than half the people running for president. She has given up politics, but her presidential campaign in 1972 - the first for a black woman - remains a symbol of the struggle against racism and sexism.

She is also writing a third book, alongside her earlier Unbought and Unbossed and The Good Fight. It won't be published until she's 70, she said, "because a lot of people I mention in the book will be dead by then, I think."