A Brooklyn native and the oldest of four daughters, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High (1942), Brooklyn College (1946), and Columbia University (1951). A prize-winning debater, her career began as a nursery school teacher. But this daughter of Barbadian immigrants, filled with passion and determination, wanted to stand for something.
Despite encouragement to channel her energy and passion for equality into pursuing a career in politics, Chisholm (1924–2005) felt that being a Black woman presented a “double handicap.” Still, she would find the courage to fuel her 1964 run for the New York State Legislature and represent the 12th Congressional District of New York for seven terms (1968–1982), earning a reputation for diligent work on minority, women’s, and peace issues.
And this was just the beginning.
Chisholm later became the first woman and African American to run for the Democratic nomination for president (1972). When taking the podium to announce her plans, she said: “I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the woman’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that.”
Robert Gottlieb, who at the time was hired as the student coordinator for Chisholm’s campaign, told Smithsonian Magazine: “[Chisholm] was unafraid of anybody … Her slogan was ‘unbought and unbossed.’ She was really unbossed.”
The campaign, according to Gottlieb, got off to a bumpy start.
Gottlieb had taken a flight to Raleigh, N.C. With him were two boxes of campaign materials, brochures and bumper stickers. “And I go to pick up my bags and the brochures and bumper stickers from the luggage carousel. And scrawled all over it was ‘go home n––.’ That’s how the campaign began.”
Discrimination didn’t stop there. Chisholm was blocked from participating in televised primary debates. This led her to take legal action; she was then allowed only one speech. Despite her campaign being severely underfunded and having to endure negative arguments from members of the predominantly male Congressional Black Caucus, Chisholm continued.
Although she persevered, Chisholm was unable to garner support from the groups that might have carried her to Washington: women and minorities. Black male voters did not rally in her company, and feminists were split. Still, she forged ahead.
Co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus (1971), Chisholm stood up for racial and gender equality, the plight of the poor, and ending the Vietnam War. She became the first Black woman and second woman ever to serve on the House Rules Committee (1977). She retired from Congress (1983), helped form the National Political Congress of Black Women (1984), taught politics and women’s studies (1983–1987), and served as the ambassador to Jamaica during Pres. Bill Clinton’s first term.
One of Chisholm’s quotes, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth,” serves as a reminder of her lifelong determination. She died in 2005.
Image: Shirley Chisholm – Wiki Commons – By Thomas J. O'Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports. Light restoration by Adam Cuerden – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ds.07135.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons: Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1675018