This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Black History Month, celebrated in February, and Women's History Month, observed in March, offer an opportunity to reflect on remarkable individuals and events.

But these weeks-long celebrations of major and minor historical figures, of tragic and terrific events, are even more meaningful this year as we watch Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama vie for the presidency.

By next year, a woman or an African American could well be president of the United States. But Clinton is not the first woman to run for office, nor is Obama the first African American to throw his hat in the ring.

Their campaigns should remind us that other courageous individuals challenged racial and gender norms and contributed in their own way to the political debate now taking place across the country.

Twenty years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was a contender for the Democratic nomination. He also ran in 1984.

When he announced in March 2007 that he had decided to back Obama's bid for the White House, Jackson said his campaigns had helped break down barriers. He told MSNBC his efforts had made it easier not only for African Americans to run for office, but also for women and other minorities.

Jackson is just one of a number of individuals who should be recognized, however.

Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, also was the first to run for president. In June 1972 she said: "I am a candidate for the presidency of the United States. I make that statement proudly, in the full knowledge that, as a black person and as a female person, I do not have a chance of actually gaining that office in this election year. I make that statement seriously, knowing that my candidacy itself can change the face and future of American politics . . . even though, in the conventional sense, I will not win."

And we must not forget Charlotta Bass, publisher of the California Eagle, a newspaper for African Americans founded in Los Angeles in 1879. Twenty years before Chisholm announced her candidacy, Bass ran for vice president on the Progressive Party ticket. The actor-singer Paul Robeson nominated her; W.E.B. Du Bois seconded the nomination.

In her acceptance speech, Bass said: "I stand before you with great pride. This is a historic moment in American political life. Historic for myself, for my people, for all women. For the first time in the history of this nation a political party has chosen a Negro woman for the second highest office in the land."

One century before Chisholm began her campaign, Victoria Claflin Woodhull, the feminist publisher of Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, was nominated for president by the Equal Rights Party. A contemporary called her "a young woman whose career has been as singular as any heroine's in a romance . . . whose position as a representative of her sex . . . renders her an object of peculiar interest to her fellow citizens."

Her decision to ask Frederick Douglass to be her running mate in 1872 was remarkable. The well-known orator, publisher and former slave was respected by many white people and was seen as a leader by black people. Yet their candidacy came in the midst of Reconstruction and only two years after ratification of the 15th Amendment: Douglass could vote, but Woodhull could not.

Nearly 140 years later, the United States may finally have a woman or an African American man for president. Discussions of race and gender should not frame the campaign, but it is important to remember - and pay tribute to - the courageous individuals who really were "the first."


* KIMBERLEY MANGUN is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. She studies women in journalism history and the African-American press.