Black in the Day…Unbought and Unbossed
November 5, 1968:
On this day Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress.
Shirley Chisholm (born Shirley Anita St. Hill, November 30, 1924–January 1, 2005) was the first African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. She represented the 12th Congressional District of New York for seven terms (1968–1982) and quickly became known for her work on minority, women’s, and peace issues. Chisholm won election to the 91st Congress (1969–1971) running under the slogan “unbought and unbossed.”
In 1968 she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from New York’s 12th congressional district, which as part of a court-mandated reapportionment plan had been significantly redrawn to focus on Bedford-Stuyvesant and was thus expected to result in Brooklyn’s first black member of Congress. (Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. had, in 1945, become the first black member of Congress from New York City as a whole.) As a result of the redrawing, the white incumbent in the former 12th, Representative Edna F. Kelly, sought re-election in a different district. Chisholm announced her candidacy around January 1968 and established some early organizational support. Her campaign slogan was “Unbought and unbossed”. In the June 18, 1968, Democratic primary, Chisholm defeated two other black opponents, State Senator William S. Thompson and labor official Dollie Robertson. In the general election, she staged an upset victory over James L. Farmer, Jr., the former director of the Congress of Racial Equality who was running as a Liberal Party candidate with Republican support, winning by an approximately two-to-one margin. Chisholm thereby became the first black woman elected to Congress.
Chisholm retired to Florida in 1991. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to be United States Ambassador to Jamaica, but she could not serve due to poor health and the nomination was withdrawn. In the same year she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Chisholm died on January 1, 2005, in Ormond Beach near Daytona Beach, after suffering several strokes. She is buried in the Oakwood Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, where the legend inscribed on her vault reads: “Unbought and Unbossed”.
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously awarded) by President Barack Obama at a ceremony in the White House. – November 2015
- In 1974, Chisholm was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Aquinas College and was their commencement speaker.
- In 1975, Chisholm was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Smith College.
- In 1996, she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree by Stetson University, in Deland, Florida.
- Chisholm was the keynote speaker at Hunter College‘s graduation in 1971.
- In 1991, Chisholm was the commencement speaker at East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where she received the first ever conferred honorary doctorate from the university. An annual ESU student award was created in her honor.
- In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
- In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Shirley Chisholm on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
- On January 31, 2014, the Shirley Chisholm Forever Stamp was issued. It is the 37th stamp in the Black Heritage series of U.S. stamps.
- Shirley Chisholm will receive a monument in Prospect Park, scheduled for 2020. Chisholm is the first woman to be so honored by SheBuiltNYC
- The Shirley Chisholm Living-Learning Community at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts is a residential hall floor where students of African descent can choose to live.