Long before Hillary Clinton made her first run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Shirley Chisholm made waves as the first woman to run for the Democratic Party nomination and the first African American to be placed on the ballot. There would have been no Hillary Clinton OR Barack Obama without Shirley Chisholm.
Here are 13 facts you should know about this often overlooked pioneer!
1. She was the child of immigrants.
Born Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York in 1924, the future trailblazer was the child of immigrants. Her mother was born in Barbados and her father was born in British Guiana (now known as Guyana). When she was five, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Barbados and did not return until she was almost ten. She spoke with a subtle West Indian accent.
2. She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta.
Chisholm pledged Delta Sigma Theta sorority while attending Brooklyn College to attain her Bachelor of Arts. She later received her MA in Elementary Education from Columbia University.
3. She is a former day care center director.
Before entering politics, Chisholm was a day care center director in Brownsville, Brooklyn and later, lower Manhattan. She was a known expert in areas of early childhood education and child welfare.
4. She was the 2nd African American woman elected to the New York State Legislature.
In 1965, she became only the 2nd African American woman elected to the New York State Legislature. While serving, she introduced the “SEEK program (Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge) to the state, which provided disadvantaged students the chance to enter college while receiving intensive remedial education.”
5. She was the 1st African American Congresswoman.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm made history by becoming the first African American congresswoman in the United States. She served seven terms in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of her hometown Brooklyn, New York.
6. She was “Unbought and Unbossed.“
While running for Congress, her campaign slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed” which was also the title of her autobiography published in 1970.
7. She helped found the Congressional Black Caucus.
Chisholm was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus (so named in 1970). Her mission: “to seize the moment, to fight for justice, to raise issues too long ignored and too little debated.”
8. She fought for children and their families.
Her fight for children and their families continued while she was in Congress. She fought for a national school lunch bill, she worked to expand the food stamps program, and was instrumental in establishing The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (Wic), which provided support for pregnant women.
9. She was the first woman to run for the Democratic party nomination and the first African American to be placed on the ballot!
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm announced her campaign for presidency become the first woman to run for the Democratic party nomination and the first African American to be placed on the ballot! She ultimately lost to the nomination to Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and the national election to Republican nominee Richard Nixon, a Senator from California (yikes, we all know how that turned out).
10. She visited George Wallace after he was almost assassinated.
She lost some of her support due to her relationship with segregationist George Wallace. After visiting him at the hospital following the attempt on his life in 1972: “Black people in my community crucified me,” she said. “But why shouldn’t I go to visit him? Every other presidential candidate was going to see him. He said to me: ‘What are your people going to say?’ I said: ‘I know what they’re going to say. But I wouldn’t want what happened to you to happen to anyone.’ He cried and cried and cried.”
11. She remained active in politics after she left Congress.
She remained politically active after leaving Congress. Shirley Chisholm left congress in January of 1983 and became a professor teaching at Mt. Holyoke College. Yet, she made time to found the National Political Congress of Black Women. She also campaigned for Jesse Jackson’s presidential bids in 1984 and 1988. She spoke throughout the country about her amazing career and expertise on issues of race, gender, and politics.
12. She is a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
Shirley Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States. In giving the award President Obama said:
“There are people in our country’s history who don’t look left or right – they just look straight ahead. Shirley Chisholm was one of those people.”
13. A biopic about her life is in the works.
In 2016, it was announced Tony Award winning actress Anika Noni Rose will star in and produce a film about Shirley Chisholm’s amazing legacy!
*Note: An earlier edition of this article stated that Chisholm was the first African American to run for President. While she was, in fact, the first African American to be listed on the ballot, there were a number of African American candidates who ran before her.
About The Authors
Faye McCray is an attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For Harriet, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, Black and Married with Kids, and other popular publications. Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising.
Rick McCray is a married father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast. Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.