Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm became in 1968 the first African American woman elected to Congress. Four years later in 1972, she launched a bid to become the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, another first for an African American woman. Throughout her career in Congress Chisholm was a staunch advocate of women’s rights and civil rights. On August 10, 1970, she delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives urging support for the Equal Rights Amendment. That speech appears below.
Mr. Speaker, House Joint Resolution 264, before us today, which provides for equality under the law for both men and women, represents one of the most clear-cut opportunities we are likely to have to declare our faith in the principles that shaped our Constitution. It provides a legal basis for attack on the most subtle, most pervasive, and most institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women, solely on the basis of their sex, is so widespread that is seems to many persons normal, natural and right.
Legal expression of prejudice on the grounds of religious or political belief has become a minor problem in our society. Prejudice on the basis of race is, at least, under systematic attack. There is reason for optimism that it will start to die with the present, older generation. It is time we act to assure full equality of opportunity to those citizens who, although in a majority, suffer the restrictions that are commonly imposed on minorities, to women.
The argument that this amendment will not solve the problem of sex discrimination is not relevant. If the argument were used against a civil rights bill, as it has been used in the past, the prejudice that lies behind it would be embarrassing. Of course laws will not eliminate prejudice from the hearts of human beings. But that is no reason to allow prejudice to continue to be enshrined in our laws -- to perpetuate injustice through inaction.
The amendment is necessary to clarify countless ambiguities and