Shirley Chisholm

First Black Congresswoman: 1924-2005

"...Prejudice and hatred built the nation’s slums, maintains them and profits by them…. Unless we start to fight and defeat the enemies in our own country, poverty and racism, and make our talk of equality and opportunity ring true, we are exposed in the eyes of the world as hypocrites when we talk about making people free."

Biography

“Fighting Shirley Chisholm — Unbought and Unbossed” was her campaign slogan for New York’s Twelfth Congressional District race in 1968. Chisholm won and then stayed true to her words throughout her political career. She opposed the Vietnam War and weapons development at a time when it was unpopular to do so, and relentlessly fought for the rights of women, children, minorities, and the poor.

Chisholm introduced groundbreaking legislation to establish publicly supported daycare centers and to expand unemployment insurance to cover domestic workers. She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, holding it accountable as “the conscience of Congress.” In 1972, Chisholm announced her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, the first African American woman to do so. Although she didn’t receive the nomination, she won 28 delegates and gathered 152 votes at the Democratic National Convention.

Before entering politics, Chisholm was a nursery school teacher, daycare center director, and a consultant for the New York Department of Social Services, where she became well acquainted with the struggles of the poor and disenfranchised. The daughter of immigrant parents from Barbados and Guyana, she grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where she remained passionately committed to her constituency. She chronicled her political career in two autobiographical books, Unbought and Unbossed (1970) and The Good Fight (1973).

Chisholm continued her advocacy after she retired from Congress in 1983, going on to found the National Political Congress of Black Women, teaching at Mt. Holyoke and Spelman colleges, and lecturing around the country. At every turn, she invited others to join her in fighting for a more just society. “We need men and women…who will dare to declare that they are free of the old ways that have led us wrong, and who owe nothing to the traditional concentrations of capital and power that have subverted this nation’s ideals.”