Remembering Shirley Chisholm


In these tumultuous times sometimes it is a
comfort to look back at leaders of the past who
weathered difficult times with intelligence,
strength and grace. One of those leaders was
Shirley Chisholm. Her life was far from trouble
free but she strove to achieve and succeeded. She strove to
represent and did it well. Following is a brief summary of
her life and times. When we wonder what the role models
of today are, perhaps we can also look back in time to some
of the greats such as Shirley Chisholm whose leadership was
exemplary.
From Wikipedia:
“Shirley Anita Chisholm (née St. Hill; November 30, 1924
January 1, 2005) was an American politician,
educator, and author. In 1968, she became the
first African American woman elected to the
United States Congress, representing New
York’s 12th congressional district for seven
terms from 1969 to 1983. In the 1972 United
States presidential election, she became the
first African American candidate for a major party’s
nomination for president of the United States, and the first
woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential
nomination.
Born in Brooklyn, Chisholm studied and worked in early
childhood education, becoming involved in local Democratic
party politics in the 1950s. In 1964, overcoming some
resistance because she was a woman, she was elected to
the New York State Assembly. Four years later she was
elected to Congress, where she led expansion of food and
nutrition programs for the poor and rose to party
leadership. She retired from Congress in 1983 and taught at
Mt Holyoke College, while continuing her political
organizing. Although nominated for an ambassadorship in
1993, health issues caused her to withdraw. In 2015,
Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential
Medal of Freedom.
Chisholm entered the world of politics in 1953 when she
joined Wesley “Mac” Holder’s effort to elect Lewis Flagg Jr.
to the bench as the first black judge in Brooklyn. The Flagg
election group later transformed into the BedfordStuyvesant Political League (BSPL). The BSPL pushed
candidates to support civil rights, fought against racial
discrimination in housing, and sought to improve economic
opportunities and services in Brooklyn. Chisholm eventually
left the group around 1958 after clashing with Holder over
Chisholm’s push to give female members of the group more
input in decision making.
She also worked as a volunteer for white-dominated
political clubs in Brooklyn, like the Brooklyn Democratic

Clubs and the League of Women Voters. Furthermore, within
the political organizations she joined, Chisholm sought to
make meaningful changes to the structure and make-up of
the organizations, specifically the Brooklyn Democratic
Clubs, which resulted in her being able to recruit more
people of color into the 17th District Club and, thus, local
politics.
In 1960,Chisholm joined a new organization, the Unity
Democratic Club (UDC) led by former Elect Flagg member
Thomas R. Jones. The UDC’s membership was mostly middle
class, racially integrated, and included women in leadership
positions. Chisholm campaigned for Jones who lost the
election for an assembly seat in 1960, but ran again two
years later and won, becoming Brooklyn’s second black
assemblyman.
After Jones chose to accept a judicial appointment rather
than run for reelection, Chisholm sought to run for his seat in
the New York state assembly in 1964. Chisholm faced
resistance based on her sex with the UDC hesitant to support
a female candidate. Chisholm chose to appeal directly to
women voters, including using her role as Brooklyn branch
president of Key Women of America to mobilize female
voters. Chisholm won the Democratic primary in June 1964.
She then won the seat in December with over 18,000 votes
over Republican and Liberal party candidates, neither of
which received more than 1,900 votes.
Chisholm was a member of the New York State Assembly
from 1965 to 1968, sitting in the 175th, 176th and 177th
New York State Legislatures. By May 1965 she had already
been honored in a “Salute to Women Doers” affair in New
York. One of her early activities in the Assembly was to argue
against the state’s literacy test requiring English, holding
that just because a person “functions better in his native
language is no sign a person is illiterate”. By early 1966 she
was a leader in a push by the statewide Council of Elected
Negro Democrats for black representation on key
committees in the Assembly.
Her successes in the legislature included getting
unemployment benefits extended to domestic workers. She
also sponsored the introduction of a SEEK program (Search
for Education, Elevation and Knowledge) to the state, which
provided disadvantaged students the chance to enter college
while receiving intensive remedial education.
In August 1968, she was elected as the Democratic
National Committeewoman from New York State.
7

In 1968 she ran for the US House of Representatives from
New York’s 12th congressional district, which as part of a
court-mandated reapportionment plan had been significantly
redrawn to focus on Bedford-Stuyvesant and was thus
expected to result in Brooklyn’s first black member of
Congress. (Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. had, in 1945, become
the first black member of Congress from New York City as a
whole.) As a result of the redrawing, the white incumbent in
the former 12th, Representative Edna F. Kelly, sought reelection in a different district. Chisholm announced her
candidacy around January 1968 and established some early
organizational support. Her campaign slogan was “Unbought
and unbossed.” In the June 18, 1968, Democratic primary,
Chisholm defeated two other black opponents, State Senator
William S. Thompson and labor official Dollie Robertson. In
the general election, she staged an upset victory over James
Farmer, the former director of the Congress of Racial Equality
who was running as a Liberal Party candidate with
Republican support, winning by an approximately two-to-one
margin. Chisholm thereby became the first black woman
elected to Congress, and was the only woman in the
freshman class that year.
Chisholm joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971
as one of its founding members. In the same year, she was
also a founding member of the National Women’s Political
Caucus.
In May 1971 she, along with fellow New York
Congresswoman Bella Abzug, introduced a bill to provide $10
billion in federal funds for child care services by 1975. A less
expensive version introduced by Senator Walter Mondale
eventually passed the House and Senate as the
Comprehensive Child Development Bill, but was vetoed by
President Richard Nixon in December 1971, who said it was
too expensive and would undermine the institution of the
family.
Chisholm began exploring her candidacy in July 1971, and
formally announced her presidential bid on January 25, 1972,
in a Baptist church in her district in Brooklyn. There she called
for a “bloodless revolution” at the forthcoming Democratic
nomination convention. Chisholm became the first black
major-party candidate to run for president of the United
States, in the 1972 US presidential election, making her also
the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s
presidential nomination (US Senator Margaret Chase Smith
had previously run for the Republican presidential
nomination in 1964.) In her presidential announcement,
Chisholm described herself as representative of the people
and offered a new articulation of American identity: “I am
not the candidate of black America, although I am black and
proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of
this country, although I am a woman and equally proud of
that. I am the candidate of the people and my presence
before you symbolizes a new era in American political history.

Her campaign was underfunded, only spending
$300,000 in total. She also struggled to be regarded as a
serious candidate instead of as a symbolic political figure;
she was ignored by much of the Democratic political
establishment and received little support from her black
male colleagues. She later said, “When I ran for the
Congress, when I ran for president, I met more
discrimination as a woman than for being black.
Chisholm skipped the initial March 7 New Hampshire
contest, instead focusing on the March 14 Florida primary,
which she thought would be receptive due to its “blacks,
youth, and a strong women’s movement”. But due to
organizational difficulties and Congressional
responsibilities, she only made two campaign trips there
and ended with 3.5 percent of the vote for a seventhplace finish. Chisholm had difficulties gaining ballot access,
but campaigned or received votes in primaries in fourteen
states. Her largest number of votes came in the June 6
California primary, where she received 157,435 votes for
4.4 percent and a fourth-place finish, while her best
percentage in a competitive primary came in the May 6
North Carolina one, where she got 7.5 percent for a thirdplace finish. Overall, she won 28 delegates during the
primaries process itself.
At the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami
Beach, Florida, there were still efforts taking place by the
campaign of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey to
stop the nomination of Senator George McGovern. After
that failed and McGovern’s nomination was assured, as a
symbolic gesture, Humphrey released his black delegates
to Chisholm. This, combined with defections from
disenchanted delegates from other candidates, as well as
the delegates she had won in the primaries, gave her a
total of 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination during
the July 12 roll call. “

In conclusion let us look back at Shirley Chisholm’s life
and greatness. Let it be a guide to us in showing that
leadership can be restrained but strong. That strength and
honor can be combined with grace, that dignity and
human worth can be expressed in behavior as well as in
word.

Wishing all a joyous holiday season
Fondly,
the Diversity Committee

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