Brooklynite You Should Know: Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm's student portrait. Library of Congress.


    The late great Shirley Chisholm was not only the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress, she was also the first major-party black candidate for the President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination for president. She was also a native Brooklynite, born and bred in Bed Stuy.

    Chisholm was born Shirley St. Hill in Brooklyn on November 30, 1924, to immigrant parents. After spending some of her youth with two sisters in Barbados, she returned to Brooklyn and attended the prestigious Girls High School, an integrated institution, before going on to get her bachelors degree at Brooklyn College. (Although she’d won scholarships to both Vassar and Oberlin Colleges, her parents could not afford the cost of room and board.)

    Chisholm went on to become the director of a Brownsville nursery and to work with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League, becoming a powerful example of black female independence for the local community.


    Photo via WNYC

    After receiving a master’s degree across the river at Columbia University, she became an educational consultant at the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964. She was elected to Congress in 1968 and worked on the Education and Labor Committee, assisting in the formation of the Black Caucus.

    Chisholm made her run for the White House in 1972, but lost the Democratic nomination to Senator George McGovern, who in turn lost the election to Richard Nixon.

    For seven terms, from 1969 to 1983, Chisholm represented New York’s 12th Congressional District in the House (her presidential bid was in 1972).

    After a successful career in education and politics, Chisholm retired to Florida in the early ’90s. She passed away in 2005, at the age of 81, and is buried upstate, in Buffalo.


    Chisholm in Congress. Photo via

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