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Shirley Chisholm, unbowed

She was the first black woman elected to Congress. She served seven terms in the House, under Presidents Nixon through Reagan. She was a tireless champion of women's rights, an outspoken critic of politicians and the Vietnam War.

Shirley Chisholm died Jan. 1 near Daytona Beach at age 80.

She will be remembered as someone who changed the face of U.S. politics, and the first Democratic woman to run for president. She didn't get the 1972 Democratic nomination. But at the convention, she won more than 150 delegates.

In her autobiography, The Good Fight, Chisholm says she was not sure she wanted to run for president _ until a group of black men insulted her.

Here is her recollection of that incident, two months before she announced her candidacy, as told in her 1973 autobiography.

_ LANE DeGREGORY, staff writer; and CARYN BAIRD, news researcher

In Chicago, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and his Operation Breadbasket held a Black Expo, the third annual Chicago exhibit of black achievements in business, cooperative projects, the arts and other fields. I was to speak, along with Coretta King, at a workshop on women in politics.

As I went into the convention hall, three or four black men came in at the same time. They were middle aged and conservatively dressed; I took them for politicians. They saw me, and one of them said to the others, loud enough for me to hear, "There she is _ that little black matriarch who goes around messing things up." I was furious, but all I did was wheel around and give them a hard stare.

As I went on into the hall, I knew suddenly what I was going to say at the workshop. Women in politics? Women were intruders in politics in the eyes of men like these, and most black men were like these. When were they going to get off our backs?

"Black women," I said when my turn came, "have got to realize what they are in for when they venture into politics. They must be sure they have the stamina to endure the endless obstructions that are put in their way. They must have enough self-confidence so they will not be worn down by the sexist attacks that they will encounter on top of racial slurs."

I repeated what I have said many times, that during 20 years in local ward politics, four as a state legislator and four as a member of Congress, I had met far more discrimination because I am a woman than because I am black. Carried away a little, I went on:

"You have heard that I am considering running for President, and you may wonder how I have the nerve to say such a thing when I know that the sexist opposition I have had in the past, on top of the racial prejudice I have faced, will seem like nothing compared to what I can expect to have if I do run. Well, I am about ready to make my decision to run, and I just want today to say a few things to my black brothers, who I know are not going to endorse me.

"I do not expect their support, nor will I bother them about it. I know their feelings. I have learned too much for too long in my dealings with politicians, black and white. There are people who believe I should go to these men and discuss my intentions with them, but this kind of thinking is folly. Anyone in his right mind knows that this group of men, for the most part, would only laugh at the idea. They would never endorse me. They are the prisoners of their traditional attitudes, and some of them are just plain jealous, because they have been wounded in their male egos. They will deny this, of course, but their denials are only another aspect of the male vanity at work."

When I arrived at the convention hall, I had no intention of making such a strong statement. But that remark I heard as I entered was one I had heard just once too often. There comes a time when the heart is full and one is sick of keeping quiet out of a sense of the need for unity. If you store these things up inside for too long, in the end you become ill under the strain. I had no intention of doing that any longer, and I let it all out. I decided it was time for my brothers to know where I was coming from and what I was about to do.

"Get off my back!" I said, and that was the line all the newspapers in Chicago used the next day. "If I make the race, I want it to be clear that it will be without seeking anyone's endorsement. The endorsements I have so far come from those who are not regarded as leaders, men who play a role in the decision of who will run for president. My backing is coming from just plain people, and that is enough for me. That will be my inspiration, if I do make the decision to accept the challenge, and see whether I can be a catalyst for change in this country, an instrument the people can use to shake up the system."

Word for Word is an occasional feature excerpting passages of interest from books, magazines, Web sites and other sources. The text may be edited for space but the original spelling, grammar and punctuation are unchanged.

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