Shirley Chisholm: Barrier Breaker
At the Jackie Robinson Ballpark and Museum in Daytona Beach, Florida, stands a green sign with the words Barrier Breaker on it. This describes the ground breaking black activist, Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm was an advocate for women, minorities and the poor and brought those passions to Congress once she was elected into the House of Representatives in 1969. She was the first black woman to be elected into the U.S. Congress. In 1972, Chisholm goes on to make history again by being the first major- party African- American to run for President. Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination and lost the run, only gaining 10% of the vote. She still paved a way for more African Americans and women to become more involved with politics.
Backstory and Context
Shirley Chisholm was born on November 30th, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. A part of Chisholm’s childhood took place on her grandmother’s farm in Barbados. There she went to a school that emphasized the British way of teaching reading, writing and history. When she returned to New York she graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High and went on to get her undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College in 1946. Chisholm goes on to Columbia University to get her master’s degree in elementary education. While in school Chisholm was very active in campus and community organizations. In these groups Chisholm’s interest in grew and with the help of her colleagues and the NAACP she formed an organization to aid in acquiring equal rights for African Americans in 1909.
For years Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher and a consultant for the New York City Division of Day Care. All the while she was active in fighting for change. She was in the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Democratic Party Club in Brooklyn and the Urban League but her work didn’t stop there. In 1964, Chisholm ran and won the New York State Legislature her the second African- American to be in the position. In her 7 terms in Congress she sponsored 50 bills and 8 of those bills passed. One of the bills that passed provided financial assistance to lower class students who wanted to go on to a higher education. Another successful bill Chisholm helped become law was one to repeal a law that made New York teachers lose their tenure while on maternity leave.
Chisholm, while in Congress made her voice heard and wasn’t afraid to speak up about controversial topics. She was openly against the Vietnam War, stating that the money America is spending on the war should go to the homeless and poor American’s who really need it. She was also a voice for women and spoke out about employment opportunities for women (specifically black women) and a woman’s right to an abortion. In 1972 Chisholm ran for the Presidential office making her the first black major- party candidate to run. During her run, Chisholm survived 3 assassination attempts and discrimination for being black but even more so for being a woman.
Chisholm considered herself to have a “double handicap” being both black and a woman but never let that stop her from being a Barrier Breaker. On her marker at he Jackie Robinson Ballpark and Museum it says, “She changed the nation's perception about the capabilities of women and African-Americans.” Chisholm didn’t let her “handicap” stop her from making change happen in the US this showed the country that no matter what color or what gender you are, you’re capable of anything. Even running for the President of the United States.
"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not a candidate of the woman's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not a candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people.”
Shirley Chisholm Biography.com. The Biography.com website. https://www.biography.com/people/shirley-chisholm-9247015.
Cross, Brandon D. Shirley Chisholm Barrier Breaker. The Historical Marker Database. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=105812&Result=1.
Shirley Chisholm Biography. Encyclopedia of World Biography. http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ch-Co/Chisholm-Shirley.html.