Shirley Chisholm page 2

After making the decision to commit herself to politics, Chisholm was chosen as the Unity Club’s candidate for the State Assembly.  Winning the Democratic nomination easily, she then took the general election as well.  In 1964, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman to be elected to public office in Brooklyn and in the New York State Assembly.  She was forty years old. 

Her first appointment in the NYS Assembly was to the Education Committee; with her experience in education and previous work as director of day care in New York City, she felt this was the perfect appointment.  Though redistricting forced her to have to rerun for her seat two times over the next two years, she successfully defended her seat and continued to represent her district at the State Assembly.

In 1968, Chisholm would take her political aspirations even further; because of the redistricting that forced her to defend her seat in the New York Assembly two times in just two years, it also opened up a new congressional district in central Brooklyn, the Twelfth Congressional District.  Chisholm would announce her candidacy for the position in the 1968 primary election

Building off her political accomplishments in the NYS Assembly, Chisholm, never someone who conformed to party doctrine or felt obligated to vote a certain way because of party affiliation, adopted a slogan of “Unbought and Unbossed.”  Shirley Chisholm earned the reputation as both someone to be respected and a fighter (This is "Fighting Shirley Chisholm" Page 1 Page 2)

Tragedy would strike not only Chisholm personally, but the entire nation in April of 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  For Chisholm, Dr. King not only made equality something to strive for, but something that should be demanded. Two years later, she and other black political figures would work to get January 15th, Dr. King's birthday, recongnized as a national holiday (Page 1 Page 2). Chisholm also made her own pledge.

After reading the above article, explain in your own words what you think Chisholm means by "We are through with gradualism, with see-how-far-you've-comeism." Who is she referring to when she states, "We want our share of the American Dream?"

Chisholm thought that such a time demanded more than ever that both white and black people band together and work together constructively.  While she equally mourned the death of such a figure as Dr. King, she urged the black population not to give in to despair.  Her sentiments on extremist group militancy and racial violence were evident in the words she spoke some years later.

On November 5, 1968, Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Twelfth Congressional District resulted in success.  Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was headed to Washington, D.C. as the first black female member in its history.

How does Chisholm's rise up the political ladder represent a major success for the Civil Rights Movement?

As the ninety-first Congress began, she would be one of nine black members to serve in that session as well as the first ever black woman (Page 1 Page 2).

Similar to her time in the NYS Assembly, she did not intend on being an idle or quiet member of Congress.  As a freshman in Congress, many representatives tried to ease into their position and avoid rocking the boat; however, Chisholm promised from her first day some powerful words: “I know that as a freshman…I’m supposed to be seen and not heard, but my voice will be heard.  I have no intention of being quiet.”

After a successful first term in Congress, she would easily regain her congressional seat for the start of the new term of 1971.  However, a new idea began circulating in her mind.  The second year of her second term, 1972, was an election year for President of the United States.  Unsatisfied with the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration, she began to wonder if a woman could be elected to the country’s highest office.  As the first black congresswoman, she felt she had a face as familiar as any other of the Democratic candidates at the time; wondering soon turned to belief. 

On January 25, 1972 Shirley Chisholm announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. Shortly after, she would receive support from other powerful black political figures for her candidacy for President.

Chisholm's candidacy received enthusiastic response from people across the United States.  As the first prominent black candidate for a major party nomination, she urged all people across the country to vote for her as a Dynamic Force for Responsible Change; she especially made a special appeal to the black population.  She urged voters to convince Democratic leaders to look past the traditional white male leadership and increase the role of minorities in the party.  Similar to her campaign slogan that resulted in her election to the NYS Assembly, her campaign adopted the slogan of Unbought and Unbossed – View a video clip of the movie Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary depicting Chisholm's campaign for the 1972 Presidency. 

Though her bid for the 1972 Presidency ended unsuccessfully, she did prove that a black and a woman could run for President of the United States.  Finishing fourth in the Democratic Convention’s nomination, she returned to the House of Representatives to serve out the remainder of her second term. 

Though reelected to the House of Representatives in every two-year term between 1974 and 1980, the intensity that defined her political life for so long began to fade.  In February of 1982, she announced her retirement from the House of Representatives.  Plans to not work were not in the picture however; Congresswoman Chisholm would become Professor Chisholm.

As a small girl growing up in Brooklyn, she imagined what it would be like to have a life involved in politics.  Even she didn’t think however that this dream would take her as far as it did.  Towards the end of her political career, she was asked how she wanted to be remembered.  She responded with the following:

When I die, I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the twentieth century and who dared to be a catalyst of change. I don't want to be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress. And I don't even want to be remembered as the first woman who happened to be black to make a bid for the Presidency I want to be remembered as a woman who fought for change in the twentieth century. That's what I want.

What were some of the changes that Chisholm was successful in accomplishing during her tenure as a NYS Assemblywoman and United States Congresswoman?