“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” – Shirley Chisholm
Trailblazer Shirley Chisholm was born Shirley St. Hill on November 30, 1914 in Brooklyn. In 1946 she graduated from Brooklyn College before beginning her career as an educator. Shirley spent years teaching children and worked her way up to being an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare.
Shirley Chisholm was elected the first African American United States congresswoman in 1968, breaking both racial and gender barriers. First serving on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, Shirley continued the fight for her passion and was moved to the education and labor committee. Opposition came from some of the men in congress who didn’t respect her in this position. Yet, she never backed down from her cause. She made sure that food stamps were available to people in every state and helped to set up WIC, a program that helps pregnant women and their children with both support and dietary needs.
In 1969, she helped to found the Congressional Black Caucus, a group that represents the black members of congress. This group continues to fight for justice, seizing the opportunity to raise important issues today. The Congressional Black Caucus gives internships to African American students hoping to enter politics and gives them first hand experience with the United States political System.
Shirley became the first African American to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972. Her platform focused on education and employment opportunities for minorities. She prided herself on being “unbought and unbossed,” using that as her slogan for her campaign posters. And Ms. Chisholm was both of those things. In fact, Shirley sued to be involved in the presidential debates. During her campaign, several attempts were made to assassinate her, however, Shirley persisted. She lost to George McGovern at the Democratic National Convention, thus ending her run for president.
“I ran because most people thought the country was not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate,” Chisholm said.
After seven consecutive terms as US Congresswoman she retired from politics in 1983, Shirley continued her career as a teacher. She taught at Mount Holyoke College and lectured around the country.
Shirley Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005. She was a trailblazer in the field of American politics, not letting racism or gender stereotypes stand in her way. She paved the way for many women and African Americans to enter this world and further shatter the glass ceiling. Her influence has inspired many women to follow in her footsteps.