Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, visits Alabama Governor George Wallace, perhaps the single most famous supporter of racial segregation in modern history, as he recovers from an assassination attempt on June 8, 1972. The two were both seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Wallace won the governorship on a platform of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” and rose to national prominence in 1963 when he appeared on the steps of the University of Alabama to block Black students from attending. He won five Southern states as a third-party candidate in the 1968 presidential election, promising to end the federal government’s attempts at desegregation. Chisholm, who began her career as an early-childhood educator before entering politics, won her Bedford-Stuyvesant seat the same year, presenting herself as “Unbought and unbossed.” Chisholm’s campaign was a long shot—she would later state that her Democratic colleagues refused to take her seriously because she was a woman—but Wallace’s prospects looked decent until he was shot five times at a campaign stop in Laurel, Maryland on May 15, 1972, leaving him permanently paralyzed.
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Chisholm’s unexpected visit to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring lasted roughly fifteen minutes. The congresswoman recounted that she told Wallace “I wouldn’t want what happened to you to happen to anyone,” and that the governor “cried and cried” in response. She added that, despite their profound disagreements on fundamental issues like racial equality, she agreed with Wallace’s criticisms of “the domination of corporate institutions…and unresponsiveness of the Government to the people.” Wallace won two primary races after the shooting, but it effectively ended his campaign. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota ultimately won the nomination, only to lose to incumbent Richard Nixon by a count of 520 electoral votes to 17. Two years later, Wallace threw his support behind Chisholm’s bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, marshaling enough support from Southern Democrats to get the bill passed.
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