Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You

​Shirley Chisholm - Advice to young  African Americans

Shirley Chisholm - Speech at Greenfield CC (1983)           (starts at 4:14)

The first black congresswoman Shirley A. Chisholm

Shirley Anita Chisholm   1924 -

​Shirley Anita Chisholm earned her place in history as the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, and also as the first woman, white or black, to make a serious bid for the presidency.

Shirley Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York, one of four daughters of Charles and Ruby St. Hill, who both hailed from the West Indies. Her father was an unskilled laborer and her mother a seamstress and domestic, whose primary goal was to see to it that their children received a good education.

She attended a Brooklyn girls' high school and then entered Brooklyn College, where she earned a B.A. cum laude in 1946, majoring in sociology.  She subsequently attended Columbia University, where she earned an M.A. degree in elementary education, and she became an authority on early education and child welfare.  She also developed an interest in black history and the issue of civil rights.  Harriet Tubman, the fearless black conductor on the Underground Railroad, and Susan B. Anthony, a suffragette, were among her heroines.

Shirley Chisholm became increasingly involved in the community and, anxious to be in a position where she could dramatically forge change, she entered politics.  Directly accountable to the people rather than to so-called party bosses, she campaigned without the blessing of the Democratic Party machine, and she was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1964, the first Black woman ever elected to the position.  During her four years in the statehouse, nine of her own bills were passed by the assembly and four were signed into law.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm brought her political aspirations into the national arena, when she was drafted to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress.  Yielding to wishes of the people, Mrs. Chisholm warded off stiff primary and Republican challenges.  On November 5, 1968, she was elected to the 91st Congress from Brooklyn, making her the first black woman to serve in this legislative body.

Following her 1970 re-election, Chisholm wanted to carry her crusade, for the rights of the under served, to even greater levels.  On January 25, 1972, Chisholm uttered these history making words, "I hereby declare myself a candidate for President of the United States of America."  While she didn't win the nomination, she made an impressive showing.

Shirley Chisholm's life is chronicled in her autobiography, Unbought and Unbossed.  In 1973, she reflected on her presidential bid for her book, The Good Fight.  After a successful 14-year Congressional career, she returned to her first love, education, in 1983, and became a teacher at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts.  In The Good Fight, Shirley Chisholm explained why she ran for the presidency: "I ran for the presidency in order to crack a little more of the ice which in recent years has congealed to nearly immobilize our political system and demoralize people.  I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo."

She also wrote, "My goal was to shake things up a little.  I think I made a dent or two; time will tell.  At any rate, I feel the Chisholm candidacy accomplished one thing.  The next time a woman of whatever color, or dark-skinned person of whatever sex aspires to be President, the way should be a little smoother because I helped pave it.  Perhaps some Black or Spanish speaking child already dreams of running for the presidency some day, because a Black woman has dared to.  That child's dream would be more than enough for me to have accomplished, would it not?"

Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Firsts.

This is only a summary of the life of Shirley Anita Chisholm.