Born in my very own borough, educated in Barbados (her mother’s home country) and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Shirley Chisholm became politically aware and a social activist while still a college student, but didn’t enter politics officially until the 1960s, after a more than 15-year career as an educator.
Her first elected position was a New York State Assemblywoman in 1964, which she held for four years, before running for and winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968, making her the first black woman to hold such a position. She served in the Congress from 1969 until 1982, and was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.
During her work both as a assembly member and a congresswoman, Chisholm devoted herself to progressive causes: the rights of women to bodily autonomy and equal protection under the law, the rights of working people to have job insurance, decent wages, and security, the rights of all citizens to be adequately fed and housed and educated. She also went out of her way to hire only women to work in her offices in New York and Washington.
In 1972, Chisholm undertook a run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination on a progressive platform, speaking out for civil rights and against the institutional racism and sexism of the U.S. court system. One of six contenders (the others all white men), she lost the party’s nomination, but continued to work faithfully in the House of Representatives for another ten years.
Her “retired” life brought her back to education, and she lectured and mentored students at a number of colleges and universities, including some HBCUs, until her health forbade it. Chisholm died in Florida in 2005.
For all of these things, and for so many others I can’t even begin to describe, I nominate Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm to the Harpy Hall of Fame.
You can read more about the amazing, inspiring, brings-me-to-tears-with-her-awesomeness Shirley Chisholm in her brilliantly-titled autobiography Unbought and Unbossed, and watch a teaser for a 1972 documentary of the same name on her Presidential bid here.