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Vol. LXIII, No. 25
 
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
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“I Am Paving the Road”: Local Resident’s Film of Shirley Chisholm’s Campaign Shown by HSP

Dilshanie Perera

Describing Chisholm: Pursuing the Dream as a film that inspires one to “stand up and cheer in the aisles,” Executive Director Erin Dougherty of the Historical Society of Princeton (HSP) introduced the documentary last Wednesday at the Garden Theater.

Made in 1972 by local resident Bob Denby and now-television producer and co-owner of the Boston Red Sox Tom Werner, the documentary tracks Shirley Chisholm’s campaign for President of the United States.

As the first African American women elected to Congress in 1968, Ms. Chisholm became the first woman to campaign in a Democratic presidential primary, as well as the first African American to run as a major party candidate for president.

Mr. Denby, a former Princeton Day School teacher; and Joshua Guild, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies, were both on hand at the screening to speak about the process of making the movie and Ms. Chisholm’s legacy, respectively.

Mr. Denby described watching the news one evening after he had just graduated from college and hearing Walter Cronkite announce that Ms. Chisholm was going to run for president. Immediately, he and Mr. Werner wrote to her staff offering to document the historic moment “so that future generations could have a sense of what her campaign was all about.” They subsequently met with Ms. Chisholm, and began following her around on the trail.

While Ms. Chisholm was initially a bit hesitant on camera, Mr. Denby said that three months into the stint, she would ask “Where are my boys?” if he and Mr. Werner were not present when she was about to say something important.

The documentary provides a lively view into the campaign, and of Ms. Chisholm herself. The dynamism of her public speeches was neatly juxtaposed with the quieter, more intimate moments among staff and family, as well as with one-on-one interviews.

In one interview with the filmmakers, Ms. Chisholm noted that “the agony of people moves me. I am going against a tradition in this country; I am paving the road.”

Given the recent historic presidential campaign, the content of Chisholm: Pursuing the Dream felt prescient and the screening timely.

Explaining her rationale for running for president, Ms. Chisholm said part of the value of her campaign lay in the future. “Next time a black person runs, or a woman runs, and they have the ability to run the country, then you’ll know they are serious,” she said.

Saying that if her campaign was able to form a coalition and amass delegates, “believe it our not, in no time people, just people in America — the Indian, the woman, the black — will feel that … the American Dream is coming true. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

The event was part of the closing of the exhibition at the Historical Society entitled “Stand Up, Speak Out: Princeton’s Citizens Find Their Voice,” which deals with political participation and voting rights, told through the perspective of women, African Americans, and university students. The show will be at Bainbridge House until July 5.

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