The Daily Heller: Before Obama’s HOPE, There Was Shirley Chisholm

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Every Friday, I receive an email with a “Poster of the Week” from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Founded by Carol A. Wells, the CSPG receives poster donations from collectors, artists and activists from all over the world and makes them accessible to all. It is a historian’s gift and an essential trove and study center for the propagation of free speech. Moreover, underrepresented artist and designers get their due in CSPG’s holdings and exhibitions.

Last week—the week when Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first Black woman and first former public defender to become an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court—I was heartened by the posters CSPG selected to commemorate the milestone.

In 1968, the same year that Richard Nixon was elected president, Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005) became the first Black woman elected to Congress; she represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms (1969–1983). She was a firebrand with a soft healing voice. In 1972, she became the first major-party Black candidate for president of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. She broke many barriers in the slow slog toward equal representation—the same congressional representation that is challenged by today’s political climate.

This campaign poster represents a hero. Rendered in the posterized/Kodalith high contrast style of the 1960s, it reminds me of Shepard Fairey’s iconic image of another first: President Barack Obama and the “HOPE” poster.

Printmaker and social activist Wendell Collins (1918–2016) designed “UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED,” a startling image and slogan that helped galvanize the public.

CSPG notes: “Collins learned screenprinting in the military, and after his discharge moved to Kansas. He was arrested in 1947 for refusing to move to the Negro section of the segregated movie theater in Junction City, KS. He moved to Los Angeles in 1948 and worked as a political cartoonist for the progressive Black-owned newspaper the California Eagle. In the mid-1960s he was an officer in the Los Angeles chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, commonly known as CORE. In 2002, CSPG honored him with the ‘Art is a Hammer’ award.”

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