Shirley Chisholm c. Pictorial Parade : Getty Images

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Shirley Chisholm

March 1, 2024

March is Women’s History Month!  To celebrate the impact women have had in Prospect Park and in our Brooklyn community, we’re spotlighting the storied legacy of Brooklyn trailblazer Shirley Chisholm. A local hero, Shirley Chisholm is a beacon of perseverance and dedication in Brooklyn and far beyond. In the coming years, two tributes to Chisholm and her legacy are also coming to Brooklyn’s Backyard. The Shirley Chisholm monument, commissioned through the She Built NYC Initiative through funding from the NYC Mayor’s office, will pay homage to Chisholm and the Shirley Chisholm Welcome Center, made possible through funding from NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and the Brooklyn Delegation, led by Council Members Crystal Hudson, Rita Joseph, Shahana Hanif and former Council Majority Leader, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo, will transform a former maintenance building into a space that honors Chisholm’s impact and complements the new monument.

Chisholm was born 1924 in Brooklyn to Barbadian parents. She spent her childhood in Barbados but returned to Brooklyn at age ten and lived much of her life in Crown Heights, to the northeast of Prospect Park and blocks away from historic Weeksville. Chisholm graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High and from Brooklyn College. She initially worked as a nursery school teacher in Brooklyn and earned a master’s degree in early childhood education. By 1960, she was a consultant to the New York City Division of Daycare. Shirley fought for racial and gender equality even before her time in congress and joined local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, and the Democratic Party Club in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Chisholm was a leader and an advocate for residents of Brooklyn and the country at large.

In 1968, Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Her notable achievements in Congress included working to expand access to food stamps, extending minimum wage requirements to domestic workers, and helping to pass Title IX, the landmark federal civil rights law that prohibits any sex-based discrimination in any government-funded school or education program. Chisholm introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality throughout her time in congress. She was one of the founding members of the Black Caucus in 1971 and that same year was one of the founding members of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and in 1977 became the first Black woman and second woman ever to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee. 

By 1972, Shirley Chisolm was one of the most visible and powerful members of Congress. That same year, Representative Chisholm became the first Black major-party candidate to run for President of the United States. True to her famous slogan, “unbought and unbossed,” Chisholm refused to abandon the interests of her constituents, no matter what establishment politicians did to intimidate her or mitigate her efforts. As Chisholm once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” 

During Chisholm’s quest for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination, she was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech. Her resilience prevailed and Chislhom entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 of the delegates’ votes despite the extensive discrimination she faced, earning her nickname “Fighting Shirley”. Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983. She taught at Mount Holyoke College and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. Chisholm’s legacy lives on in her hometown of Brooklyn and far beyond, as she remains a national symbol of triumph and a true catalyst for change.