Representative Shirley Chisholm: Brooklyn Trailblazer

African American educator and U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm speaks at a podium at the Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida, July 1972. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)
African American educator and U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm speaks at a podium at the Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida, July 1972. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)

To celebrate Women’s History Month, learn about Shirley Chisholm, one of the women pioneers that paved the way for IMPACCT Brooklyn’s work throughout our communities, and how the city of Brooklyn plans to honor her legacy in Prospect Park.

Shirley Chisholm is best known for becoming the first Black congresswoman (1968), representing New York State in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven terms. She went on to run for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency—becoming the first major-party African-American candidate, as well as the second woman, to do so. Throughout her political career, Chisholm fought for education opportunities and social justice. 

Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Brooklyn College in 1946, she went into education, earning a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University and becoming a teacher. Additionally, Chisholm served as director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center from 1953 to 1959, and as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964.

After running on a slogan of “Unbought and Unbossed,” Chisholm made history by becoming the United States’ first African American congresswoman in 1968, beginning a run of seven terms in the House of Representatives. She was initially assigned to the House Agriculture Committee; however, she felt the placement was irrelevant to the constituents in her urban district, and she shocked many by demanding reassignment. As a result, she was placed on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, eventually graduating to the Education and Labor Committee. Chisholm notably became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and championed minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress, working hard to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. 

Chisholm caught the national spotlight when she became the first African American and the second woman to make a bid for the U.S. presidency with a major party when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. 

In announcing her bid, Chisholm said, “I am not the candidate of 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 am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”

Although she ran a spirited campaign, Chisholm ultimately conceded and South Dakota Senator George McGovern became the Democratic nomination.

Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983 to teach at Mount Holyoke College; later on, she co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. In 1991 she moved to Florida, and later declined the nomination to become U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica due to ill health. Shirley Chisholm passed on January 1st, 2005, at 80 years old. Of her legacy, Chisholm said, “I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”

In the 2020 City Budget, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the Brooklyn Delegation of the New York City Council allocated $2.25 million of the $5.5 million in funding needed to transform an unused comfort station at the soon-to-be-restored Ocean and Parkside Avenue Entrance to Prospect Park into the Shirley Chisholm Welcome Center. The welcome center will feature a new monument to Representative Chisholm, funded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and designed by acclaimed Black artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous: their design “Our Destiny, Our Democracy” was selected from five finalists through an open design competition.

In the coming fiscal cycle, Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit organization that sustains the park in partnership with the city, is working with our elected officials to secure the rest of the funding needed to move this important project forward. To learn more about this project, visit the Prospect Park Alliance website:

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