Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 3, 2005) was an American politician, educator and author. She was a Congresswoman, representing New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1968, she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party African American candidate for President of the United States. She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Read Shirley Chisolm's speech for the Equal Rights Amendment, free from AmericanRhetoric.com. Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, of immigrant parents. Her father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana) and arrived in the United States via Antilla, Cuba, on April 10, 1923 aboard the S.S. Munamar in New York City. Her mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Christ Church, Barbados, and arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Pocone on March 8, 1921. At age three, Shirley was sent to Barbados to live with her maternal grandmother, Emaline Seale, in Christ Church. She did not return until roughly seven years later when she arrived in New York City on May 19, 1934 aboard the S.S. Narissa. In her 1970 autobiography Unbought and Unbossed, she wrote: "Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason."
Shirley Chisholm earned a degree in elementary education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
From 1953 to 1959, she was director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center. From 1959 to 1964, she was an educational consultant for the Division of Day Care.
Chisholm also wrote two books, Unbought and Unbossed (1970) and The Good Fight (1973).
Chisholm was married to Conrad Chisholm from 1949 to 1977. Upon their divorce, she married Arthur Hardwick Jr., who died in 1986.
In 1964, Chisholm ran for and was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives. Defeating Republican candidate James Farmer, Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress. Chisholm joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 as one of its founding members.
As a freshman, Chisholm was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee. Given her urban district, she felt the placement was inappropriate and shocked many by asking for reassignment. She was then placed on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as House Majority Leader over John Conyers. As a reward for her support, Boggs assigned her to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee. She was the third highest-ranking member of this committee when she retired from Congress.
In 1972, she made a bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. The nomination was won by George McGovern in a hotly contested set of primary elections, with Chisholm campaigning in 12 states and winning 28 delegates during the primary process. At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, as a symbolic gesture, McGovern opponent Hubert H. Humphrey released his black delegates to Chisholm, giving her a total of 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination. Chisholm's base of support was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women. Chisholm said she ran for the office "in spite of hopeless odds, . . . to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo." Among the volunteers who were inspired by her campaign was Barbara Lee, who continued to be politically active and was elected as a congresswoman 25 years later.
Chisholm created controversy when she visited rival and ideological opposite George Wallace in the hospital soon after his shooting in May 1972, during the 1972 presidential primary campaign. Several years later, when Chisholm worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, Wallace helped gain votes of enough southern congressmen to push the legislation through the House.
Throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported spending increases for education, healthcare and other social services, and reductions in military spending.
She announced her retirement from Congress in 1982. Her seat was won by a fellow Democrat, Major Owens, in 1983. After leaving Congress, Chisholm was named to the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She taught there for four years. She also lectured frequently as a public speaker.
In 1975, Chisholm was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Smith College.
In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Chisholm retired to Florida and died on January 1, 2005. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.
In February 2005, Shirley Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary film was aired on U.S. public television. It chronicles Chisholm's 1972 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. It was directed and produced by independent, black woman filmmaker Shola Lynch. The film was featured at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. On April 9, 2006, the film was announced as a winner of a Peabody Award.
In popular culture
In the lyrics of the 1988 Biz Markie song "Nobody Beats the Biz," Biz says, "Make you co-op-er-ate with the rhythm, that is what I give em/ Reagan is the pres but I voted for Shirley Chisholm"
In the lyrics of the 2005 Nellie McKay song "Mama and Me," McKay says, "There's a lotta things that I'm proud of in this world / I got a pinch of Shirley Chisholm / And a sprinkle of That Girl."
In 1999, Redman and Method man released a track on the album, Black out called "Maaaad Crew", which contains the lyric, "Clinton is the president I still voted for Shirley Chisholm." Later, in 2006, LL Cool J echoed this sentiment on his album Todd Smith with the lyric "Bush is the Prez., but I voted for Shirley Chisholm."
In the 2003 song "Spread," Andre 3000 of Outkast sang, "You're the prism / Shirley Chisholm / was the first," referencing her being the first African American woman member of Congress and the first African American presidential candidate for one of the major parties.