For Black History Month, we’ve been watching a series of biography videos, and discussing what we learn each time. My kids have really responded to the videos, and the lives of the people we’re learning about, so I put together a booklet with pictures of the people we’re studying, their birth/death years, and a brief summary of what they’re most noted for. On the rest of each page was a large area to take notes.
Somehow, the note-taking, even from my most reluctant-to-work kids, has been ravenous. They all ran up to show me how much they had written about Thurgood Marshall on Wednesday. Which brings us to Thursday, and Shirley Chisholm.
As we watched videos, I had to stop several times because they wanted to write down her quotes. They asked what her campaign slogan, “Unbossed and Unbought,” meant. They loved the saying, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” They hooted when a group of men told her not to run for office, and she did anyway — and won! I asked, “Who does that sound like, that we’re studying?” The replies came fast.
“Thurgood Marshall.” Yes! When he was denied entry at the University of Maryland, he got his law degree at Howard University School of Law. Then he turned around and successfully sued Maryland on behalf of a Black student who wanted to attend. “Who else?”
“Katherine Johnson!” Yes! She wanted to attend the Apollo meetings, and was told, “Girls don’t go to the meetings.” She came back with, “Is there a law against it?” “Who else?”
“John Lewis!” Yes! The police turned everybody back, beat everybody up when they marched over the bridge. He went to the hospital, but then they turned around and got the support of the president to push through voter rights. “Who else?”
“Ooh, ooh, Bessie Coleman!” Yes! She was laughed at for wanting to learn to fly a plane. She didn’t give up when they told her no. She convinced someone to give her financial backing, and went to France to learn to fly!
And it goes on and on, the determined living in these inspiring lives.
But back to Shirley. We loved this quote, “I ran because most people thought the country was not ready for a black candidate.” One of my girls said, “That’s how you get people ready, by doing it anyway.”
It was quite a session, and I know that there are two classes of kids now who remember Shirley Chisholm the ways she wanted to be remembered, as a catalyst for change, and as a woman who had guts.
I’m going to leave you with this video interview. I had to stop it to translate a little because the audio is cloudy, but Shirley’s dignified — and funny — responses to racist old white men in Congress had my students laughing and shouting in support of her. What a cool woman!