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Shirley Chisholm
November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005
Politician, Educator, and Author


Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm 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 black woman elected to Congress. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (Margaret Chase Smith had previously run for the Republican presidential nomination). She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York, 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, Chisholm 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."

Chisholm earned her BA from Brooklyn College in 1946 and later earned her MA from Columbia University in elementary education in 1952. 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.

Career

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 black 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 irrelevant to her constituents 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, which was her preferred committee. She was the third highest-ranking member of this committee when she retired from Congress.

All those Chisholm hired for her office were women, half of them black. Chisholm said that during her New York legislative career, she had faced much more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black.

In the 1972 U.S. presidential election, she made a bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. George McGovern won the nomination 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. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem attempted to run as Chisholm delegates in New York.

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.

From 1977 to 1981, during the 95th Congress and 96th Congress, Chisholm was elected to a position in the House Democratic leadership, as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus.

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, health care 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.

Personal Life

Chisholm was married to Conrad Chisholm, a Jamaican private investigator from 1949 to 1977. Upon their divorce, she married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a Buffalo businessman who died in 1986.

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.

Writings

Chisholm wrote two books,Unbought and Unbossed (1970) which will re-release in 2010 and The Good Fight (1973).

Retirement and Death

Chisholm retired to Florida and died on January 1, 2005 near Daytona Beach. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.

Biographical Documentary

In February 2005, Shirley Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary film was aired on the 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 "George 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 black woman member of Congress and the first black presidential candidate for one of the major parties.

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