WBW Honors: Shirley Chisholm

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Professing to be “unbossed and unbought,” Shirley Chisholm was the first black female major-party candidate for President of the United States, and the first black woman to be elected to Congress. Chisholm wasn’t intent on winning the presidency, but was steadfast on challenging conventions and showing Black America that they could aim high. She set the bar, in many ways, over which President Barack Obama jumped.

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was born November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Brooklyn College, where she majored in sociology; she later earned a Masters from Columbia University.

In 1964, Chisholm ran for and was elected to the New York State Legislature. Four years later, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York’s 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives. As the first woman in Congress she hired an all-female staff.

Serving seven terms, Chisholm was an outspoken advocate for women, minorities, and the poor: she worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She authored legislation that instituted a program called SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge), which provided college funding to disadvantaged youth.

The pinnacle of Chisholm’s ascent occurred in 1972, when she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States, and the first female candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chisholm won 152 votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, but lost.

Chisholm retired from Congress in 1982, but remained a public figure and voice. On January 1, 2005, Shirley Chisholm died. Chisholm, as politician, author, and educator, overcame her two largest “handicaps,” being a woman and being black. She fought for political change in the 20th century that allowed tangible change, which is exhibited in the current presidency of Barack Obama.

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