Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm is an inspirational American figure.  As a black woman, she spent her life battling discrimination and prejudice not only because of her race, but also her gender.  As both educator and politician, she fought for the rights of the disenfranchised and minority populations.  Chisholm was the first African-American woman to serve in the United States Congress, the first major black candidate for the United States Presidency, and a constant advocate for the rights of minorities. 

She is also an author of two books, Unbought and Unbossed and The Good Fight and countless essays and position papers.  Read here one such essay “Women Must Rebel.” 

In her essay, Chisholm writes "I am both black and a woman." What two elements does she state are creating a social revolution AND why does she say this is a disadvantage?

As a student at Brooklyn College, her academic interests led her to identify with women such as Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony; women who fought for the equality of others.  Susan B. Anthony’s efforts in fighting for equality for women would not only leave an impression that affected Chisholm personally, but an impression that would steer her through her political career.

After graduating from Brooklyn College, Chisholm took a job teaching at Mount Calvary Child Care Center, a nursery school in Harlem. While there, she began her master’s degree in early childhood education at Columbia University’s School of Education.  With her experience and degree, she would then have the opportunity to fill the position of director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in Lower Manhattan. 

Along with her passion for education, Chisholm's interest in politics would also begin to take hold during this time. As the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s gained momentum, Chisholm would become active in the local movement in her Brooklyn community.

She would get her start in the local political scene by joining the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League (BSPL). Familiar with the New York Political scene, she was well aware of how political clubs dominated local and state politics. These clubs, or groups, were organized in every Assembly district. Often, the club leaders were the elected assemblymen to represent the district in the New York State Assembly in Albany, New York. 

Though active only a short time, the BSPL was hugely successful.  Along with Chisholm and other members, the BSPL’s legacy resides in its success in awakening the political awareness of blacks living in the district.  By the late 50s, Chisholm and other BSPL members had succeeded in bringing thousands of minority members to the polls.

After resigning from the BSPL, she concentrated wholly on her career in education.  After her success at the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center, she was appointed director of the City Division of Day Care for New York City.  However, her time away from the local political scene wouldn’t last long.

In 1960, Chisholm joined the Unity Democratic Club (UDC), which was located in her hometown seventeenth Assembly District of Brooklyn.  Shortly after joining the Unity Club, she focused her energy on getting Thomas Jones, a black lawyer, elected to the NYS Assembly in 1962.  Though the 1960 election to get Jones elected to the State Assembly was unsuccessful, the perseverance of Chisholm and other UDC members would gained enough support in Brooklyn to get Jones elected in 1962.  As a key member of the club and advocate for Jones' election, she had cemented herself into the Brooklyn-Stuyvesant political scene; she had emerged from the 1962 election with a seat on the new district committee (the UDC).  However, her role in local and state politics was just beginning.

When Jones position for reelection came up in 1964, she got her chance to step into another role of leadership.  A position opened up in Brooklyn for the Civil Court Judge and Jones wanted it.  With Jones choosing to accept this alternate position, the NYS Assembly was left vacant, but the Unity Club didn’t want to lose their representative in the Assembly; they needed another candidate.  Chisholm would be that candidate.