The first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency and who faced a “double handicap” as both Black and female.
Her motto —Unbossed and Unbought—illustrates her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I am not the candidate for Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I’m equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or fat cats or special interests,”
Shirley Chisholm became the first African American congresswoman in 1968. Later, she became the first major party black candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents who came to America from Barbados. Shirley Chisholm was the daughter of immigrants; her father Charles Christopher St. Hill was from British Guiana (in present Guyana) and her mother Ruby Seale from Barbados. Shirley father was a laborer who sometimes worked in a factory that made burlap bags, but when he could not find factory employment instead worked as a baker’s helper. Her mother was a skilled seamstress and domestic worker. Her mother had trouble working and raising the children at the same time.
As a consequence, when she turned five, she and her two sisters were sent to Barbados on the S.S. Vulcania to live with their maternal grandmother, her name “Emaline Seale”. Shirley and her sisters lived on their grandmother’s farm in the Vauxhall village in Christ Church, where she attend a one room schoolhouse.
She did not return to the United States until 1934, As a result of her time in Barbados, Shirley spoke with a recognizable West Indian accent throughout her life. She graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High School in 1942 and from Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946, where she won prizes for her debating skills. Initially, Shirley worked as a nursery school teacher and then as the director of two daycare centers. In 1949, She married Conrad Q. Chisholm, a private investigator. She had a master’s degree in early childhood education from Columbia University, in 1951.
In 1964, Shirley was elected to the New York state legislature; she was the second African-American woman to serve in Albany. Shirley was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1965 to 1968. She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, and in 1977 became the first Black woman and second woman ever to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee.
Shirley first marriage ended in divorce in1977. After 6 month she married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a New York State legislator. Chisholm had no children.
Arthur was subsequently injured in an automobile accident, desiring to take care of him, and also dissatisfied with the course of liberal politics in the wake of the Reagan Revolution, she announced her retirement from Congress in 1982. Other reasons, too, there were tensions with people on her side of the political fence, particularly African-American politicians who, she insisted, misunderstood her efforts to build alliances.
Chisholm maintained that many members of the Black community did not understand the need for negotiation with white politicians. “We still have to engage in compromise, the highest of all arts,” Chisholm noted. “Blacks can’t do things on their own, nor can whites. When you have black racists and white racists it is very difficult to build bridges between communities.
After leaving Congress in 1983, Chisholm made her home in suburban Williamsville, New York. In 1984, Shirley and C. Delores Tucker co-founded the National Congress of Black Women.
During those years, she continued to give speeches at colleges, by her own count visiting over 145 campuses since becoming nationally known. She told students to avoid polarization and intolerance: “If you don’t accept others who are different, it means nothing that you’ve learned calculus.”
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, but she could not serve due to ill health and the nomination was withdrawn.
Shirley died on January 1, 2005, in Ormond Beach Florida, after suffering several strokes. She is buried in the Birchwood Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, where the legend inscribed on her vault reads: “Unbought and Unbossed”.
In February 2005, Shirley Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary film,aired on U.S public television. In 2014, the first adult biography of Chisholm was published, Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm speech “For the Equal Rights Amendment”, given in 1970, is listed as No. 91 in American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).