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  • Writer's pictureShirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm's Speech at Howard University (1969)

Updated: Feb 17

"...But we who have been born here, we who have been citizens by birth have not been able to become fully assimilated in the American culture because of an unmistakable and almost insurmountable barrier that just will not disappear because color doesn't disappear. And so, it behooves us to stay here and to fight. We have made this land, even though we have not been given the recognition, and nobody has to create any little nation or any little group and send us scuttling off. We want to go, we go. Freedom of choice.

The black man's total commitment to America indicate that the prospect ahead does seem bright. It is true that we are angry about our present plight for we measure this country not by her achievements but by her potential. "Black power." Oh how that phrase upsets so many people. Let me give you my definition of "Black power." Black power is no different from any other kind of power in this country.

Just as I told you a few moments ago, the people from European countries came here and found their way in the American scheme of things after they were able to get a certain kind of economic and financial security, the next thing that they became interested in was to achieve power to control their own destinies. And so for example in New York City you had at one time the Germans of ascendency then you had the Italians then you had the Jewish people and the Irish. Every other group moving out to get power to control their destinies.

But nobody had to label that as "white power" because it was understood and assumed that it would always be white power. Now that we are beginning to do what they have been telling us to do for a long time, take ourselves up by our bootstraps and begin to consolidate our efforts and move out like every other group has moved out in America. Everybody is so hysterical and panic stricken because of the adjective that precedes the word power: "black." You know it would have been hoped in this country that we would never have to use the word "black" before the word "power" because America has been built on series of immigrants coming into this land rising up and moving out in terms of achieving power to control their lives.

But you see, they made one mistake. They thought that because we had been relegated for such a long time to a subservient position and that we had accepted rather docilely the position of second class citizenship that we would never rise up that we would never speak out. And so when we began to say to the world in our own way that we too know and understand what other groups have been doing for a long time in this country. Consolidating and using our power and our efforts to move up and we want the world to know that it is "black power" because we have learned what other groups have been learning and doing for a long time in this country and people just have to get used to that word "black power"..."

Picture courtesy of: American RadioWorks

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