There’s no known way for me to phone my father in the afterlife and ask him this question, but I have the impression he actually voted for Chisholm in the California primary that year. That may have just been Dad being an ornery Democrat who disliked Humphrey and didn’t quite trust McGovern, or it might have reflected the odd personal consonance between his personal background and Chisholm’s. They had both been born in New York City in the mid-1920s and then sent back to an ancestral island – Barbados in her case, Ireland in my dad’s – to be raised by a grandmother. (Chisholm credited the strict, British-style education she received in Barbados for her adult success, and I know my dad felt the same way about the Latin conjugations and corporal punishment he received from the Christian Brothers.) I also don’t know whether my dad had paid attention to one of the oddest footnotes of that alternate-universe campaign year: an unexpected alliance that had led Alabama’s all-white delegation to cheer Chisholm enthusiastically on the convention floor and many of her black constituents to berate her at town-hall meetings in Brooklyn.
In video interviews conducted late in her life (which you can view in segments on YouTube), Chisholm reflected with bemusement on the unexpected outpouring of Alabamian love, and on the fact that arch-segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, then a leading force in the Democratic Party’s right wing, had repeatedly expressed his admiration for her on the campaign trail. “For some strange, unknown reason, he liked me,” she said. “George Wallace went all over Florida [a state he would win overwhelmingly] and he said to the people, ‘If y’all can’t vote for me, don’t vote for those oval-headed lizards. Vote for Shirley Chisholm!’” (Presumably Wallace was describing his Northern liberal opponents.) Although Chisholm believed that Wallace’s remarks cost her votes in the Sunshine State among blacks who wondered whether she had made a secret covenant with a known racist cracker, she said she didn’t think the Alabama governor had any sinister or strategic intention.