The First Black Congresswoman
By Shinedip Kundlas
Volume 2 Issue 5
March 28, 2022
Image provided by Associated Press
During her seven terms in the House of Representatives, Shirley Anita Chisholm, the first African American woman to serve in Congress and the first African American to seek a presidential nomination in the United States, has been outspoken in her advocacy for women and minorities.
Born and raised in New York, Shirley Chisholm was born the oldest of four daughters to immigrant parents from Guyana and Barbados. While her parents worked to settle their family in Bedford-Stuyvesant during the Great Depression, Chisolm spent part of her childhood living on her maternal grandparents' farm in Barbados. She received a British education during this time. However, Chisholm returned to the states to finish high school and graduated top of her class. On a scholarship, she attended Brooklyn College and graduated with a Bachelor of sociology in 1946. Before starting her political career, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher from 1946 to 1953. At Columbia University, Shirley Chisholm obtained an M.A. in early childhood education three years later. From 1959 to 1964, she served for New York City's Division of Day Care as an educational consultant.
Chisholm became involved in several campus and community groups throughout her training to become a teacher. Politics became her interest and her skills of organizing and fundraising developed from there. Her deep resentment towards the treatment of women originated from the role women played in local politics at that time, which consisted mainly of staying in the background and serving as an afterthought to their male counterparts. Chisholm found a way to express her opinions about economic and social structures in a rapidly changing nation through campus politics and her membership in the NAACP, an organization fighting for equal rights for African Americans since 1909. A second African American woman was elected to Albany's legislature in 1964 when Shirley Anita Chisholm was elected to the New York state assembly.
Chisholm continued her service in the state assembly until 1968, when she ran for the U.S. Congress. She was elected and began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1982. In 1972, Chisholm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, claiming the other candidates did not represent the concerns of black and minority voters and the poor. The campaign for Chisholm's Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1972 was marked by discrimination. After pursuing legal action, she was allowed to make just one speech after being barred from participating in televised primary debates. Across the nation, women, minorities, and students flocked to the "Chisholm Trail." Despite severe under-funding and disagreements with the primarily male Congressional Black Caucus, she won 12 primaries and 152 delegates' votes. However, she did not win the Democratic nomination, yet the nation still admired Chisholm.
In January 1983, Chisholm left Congress and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. She campaigned for Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. Shirley Anita Chisholm made history as America's first black presidential candidate and first black congresswoman. Upon leaving Washington, Shirley Chisholm said she did not want to be remembered as "the nation's first black congresswoman" or, as she put it, "the first black congresswoman." Instead, she stated, "I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts". Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm will continue to inspire generations of women of color to run for office, and her legacy will never be forgotten.
"I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself."
- Shirley Chisholm