Remembering Shirley Chisholm
By Gloria Verdieu
In 1968 Shirley Anita Chisholm, fighter for
minority rights, was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Born
Shirley Anita St. Hill, she was the only Black woman to seek a major party's
presidential nomination, winning 152 delegates in 1972.
She died on Jan. 1
at age 80 in Ormond Beach, Fla.
Her parents, Charles St. Hill and Ruby
St. Hill, were Caribbean immigrants. Her father was from British Guyana; her
mother was from Barbados. Shirley St. Hill was born Nov. 30, 1924, in Brooklyn,
N.Y. At age 3 she was sent to Barbados to live with her grandmother. She went to
elementary school in that British school system. She returned to New York seven
years later, attended public schools in Brooklyn, graduated from Girls High
School, enrolled in Brooklyn College, majored in sociology and earned a B.A. in
After many rejections, Chisholm got a job at a daycare center in
Harlem. While teaching nursery school, she studied elementary education at
Columbia University and earned an M.A. in 1953. In 1953 she was director of a
childcare center, in 1959 an educational consultant, and New York State
Assemblywoman representing a Brooklyn District in 1964.
Chisholm and her
husband were active in many community and local political organizations that
included the NAACP. In 1960, she started the Democratic Unity Club, which was
instrumental in mobilizing the Black and Latino vote. She also helped to form
the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League.
While in the New York State
Assembly she proposed a bill to provide state aid to daycare centers and voted
to increase funding for schools on a per-pupil basis.
In her first term in
Congress, Chisholm hired an all-female staff and spoke out for civil rights,
women's rights, and rights for the poor and under-privileged. She fought and won
support needed to extend the minimum wage to domes tic workers. She opposed wea
pons development and the war in Vietnam.
She was a founding member of the
Congressional Black Caucus, and the founder of the National Women's Political
Caucus. She supported the Equal Rights Amendment and legal abortion throughout
her congressional career.
Chisholm often criticized the Congress as being
too clubby and unresponsive. In her book "Unbought and Unbossed," she wrote:
"Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is
supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the
chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men."
Jan. 25, 1972, when Chisholm announced her candidacy for president, she stood
before the cameras and said: "I am not a candidate of any political bosses or
special interests. I am the candidate of the people."
Chisholm served as
an advisor for the Rev. Jessie Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns,
which picked up where she left off. Jackson called Chisholm "a woman of great
Chisholm once announced: "Women in this country must become
revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and
She scared the Demo cratic Party establishment, including
the most prominent liberals, by accepting the endorsement of the Black Panther
Party. She had to file a complaint with the Federal Com mu ni ca tions
Commission in order to participate in a televised debate with white male
presidential candidates George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey.
given few opportunities to prove herself in a campaign where all the other
contenders were white men. She knew that the Democratic Party was not ready for
a candidate who promised to reshape society based on real equality and
She observed: "There is little place in the political scheme of
things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes
that role must pay a price."
Chisholm was an inspiration. Rep. Barbara
Lee, the only member of the House to openly oppose the Bush push for a blank
check for a military response after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, campaigned for
Shirley Chisholm in 1972. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones said, "If there were no
Shirley Chisholm there would be no Stephanie Tubbs Jones."
Party was not ready then and it is certainly not ready now. When asked how she
would like to be remembered, Chisholm commented, "I'd like them to say that
Shirley Chisholm had guts."
Reprinted from the Jan. 20, 2005, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news http://www.workers.org/orders/donate.php)
HOME :: U.S. NEWS :: WORLD NEWS :: EDITORIALS :: SUBSCRIBE :: DONATE