Community Spotlight Detail

Shirley Chisholm

image description

Shirley Anita Chisholm was an American politician, educator, and author. 

 

In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, and she represented New York's 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party's nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, as well as the first woman to appear in a United States presidential debate.


Shirley Chisholm

 Shirley Anita St. Hill was born on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrant parents from the Caribbean region; She had three younger sisters.

 

Father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana, lived in Barbados for a while, and then arrived in the United States. Mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Christ Church, Barbados, and arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Pocone on March 8, 1921.

 

Her 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, while her mother was a skilled seamstress and domestic worker who had trouble working and raising the children at the same time.

 

As a consequence, in November 1929 when St. Hill turned five, she and her two sisters were sent to Barbados on the S.S. Vulcana to live with their maternal grandmother, Emaline Seale. There they lived on the grandmother's farm in the Vauxhall village in Christ Church, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse that took education seriously. She did not return to the United States until May 19, 1934, aboard the SS Nerissa in New York. As a result, St. Hill spoke with a recognizable West Indian accent throughout her life.

 

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. As a result of her time on the island, and regardless of her U.S. birth, St. Hill would always consider herself a Barbadian American. Regarding the role of her grandmother, she later said, "Granny gave me strength, dignity, and love. I learned from an early age that I was somebody. I didn't need the black revolution to tell me that.

 

Before Barack Obama and Maxine Waters There Was Shirley Chisholm


Beginning in 1939, St. Hill attended Girls' High School in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, 

a highly regarded, integrated school that attracted girls from throughout Brooklyn.
St. Hill earned her Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in 1946, where she won prizes for her debating skills.
She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

 

St. Hill met Conrad O. Chisholm in the late 1940s.
He had migrated to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1946 and later became a private investigator who specialized in negligence-based lawsuits. They married in 1949 in a large West Indian-style wedding.

 

Chisholm taught in a nursery school while furthering her education,
earning her MA in elementary education from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1952.

 

In 2015, Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

From 1953 to 1959, she was director of the Friends Day Nursery in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in lower Manhattan.[10] From 1959 to 1964, she was an educational consultant for the Division of Day Care. She became known as an authority on issues involving early education and child welfare.

 

Chisholm was a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly from 1965 to 1968, sitting in the 175th, 176th and 177th New York State Legislatures.

 


By May 1965 she had already been honored in a "Salute to Women Doers" affair in New York.
One of her early activities in the Assembly was to argue against the state's literacy test requiring English, holding that just because a person "functions better in his native language is no sign a person is illiterate".

 


By early 1966 she was a leader in a push by the statewide Council of Elected Negro Democrats for black representation on key committees in the Assembly.

 

Her successes in the legislature included getting unemployment benefits extended to domestic workers.
She also sponsored the introduction of a SEEK program (Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge) to the state, which provided disadvantaged students the chance to enter college while receiving intensive remedial education.

 

In August 1968, she was elected as the Democratic National Committeewoman from New York State.