10 groundbreaking Black politicians you've probably never heard of

Most people know about the 13th Amendment and the Civil Rights Movement, but what about the individuals who won smaller, but vital, victories for representation along the way?
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Congressional Representative Shirley Chisholm
Congressional Representative Shirley Chisholm / Wally McNamee/GettyImages

Shirley Chisholm

Despite being the most well-known person on this list (especially after her spotlight in Mel Brooks's History of the World, Part II), Shirley Chisholm doesn't receive nearly enough attention for her roles in American politics. While there was an opportunity for some Black men to get involved in politics before her, Chisholm proved how much Black women could do.

Despite being born in New York City, Chisholm didn't follow the same path as many of her trailblazing predecessors. Rather than studying economics or law, she studied elementary education, which eventually led her to consult for the New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare.

Chisholm became the first Black congresswoman in 1969, and she quickly decided to make changes. Within her first year in office, she helped found the Congressional Black Caucus and co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus two years later.

In 1972, she attempted to climb even higher, running for President. She was both the first woman and the first African American to seek the nomination from one of the two major political parties.

"I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman and equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people and my presence before you symbolizes a new era in American political history."

Chisholm's Presidential Announcement

While Chisholm didn't find as much success as she might have hoped in her Presidential candidacy, even the attempt was a huge step forward for anyone traditionally left out of American political spheres. She continued to serve in Congress until 1982.