They Couldn’t Keep This Black Woman Off The Ballot

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Charlene Mitchell was the first African-American woman to ever run for U.S. President, and she was far from your average candidate. Representing the Communist Party in the 1968 presidential elections, Mitchell levied a lifetime of social and political activism into a revolutionary platform to end capitalism and disrupt the notion of the American Dream.

Mitchell believed that Black people needed to control their own schools, demand a greater stake in the profits from companies utilizing Black labor, and exercise the right to bear arms if necessary to protect their communities.

Prior to 1968, no women in history had their name on the general election ballot. Mitchell broke this gender barrier in the face of vehement opposition from white men who did not see it fit for a woman, especially Black, to lead the country.

Although Mitchell was a proud and confident candidate, she feared that America’s anti-communist voting laws, which barred known communists from voting, would impede her chances of victory.

Throughout her activism and community organizing, she rubbed shoulders with Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, John Henrik Clarke, and Kwame Nkrumah as she traveled throughout Africa and sought to better understand the needs and conditions of her people.

According to Mitchell, “Very early on, members of the Communist Party -- communist parties all over the world -- were active in the fight against imperialism and colonialism in Africa.” Her chief concern was bridging the gap between how African people lived and how they could live if freed from Europe’s oppressive systems.

While Mitchell spent significant time in Africa, her most impressive work was done on U.S. soil. When Angela Davis was imprisoned, she spearheaded the Free Angela movement that garnered international attention and support.

Despite losing the 1968 election, Mitchell set the stage for women like Shirley Chisholm to get the backing of a major political party. While many Black people have run for office, the ones who actually make the ballot are few and far between - making Mitchell’s accomplishment that much more impressive.

If you are interested in reading the full transcript from Charlene Mitchell’s last public interview that details her experience as a member of the Communist Party, what she learned from time spent with notable African leaders, and how she felt about the NAACP and Black Panthers then click here.

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