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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Today in Civil Rights History: Shirley Chisholm’s becomes First Black Woman Elected to Congress

November 5, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm

Today marks the anniversary of Shirley Chisholm's election to Congress in 1968. Chisholm, a Democrat who represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983, was the first Black woman elected to Congress. In 1972, Chisholm became the first Black woman from a major political party to run for president.

Before her political career, Chisholm earned a BA from Brooklyn College and an MA from Columbia University in elementary education and became known as an expert on early childhood education. She worked as a nursery school teacher, a director of a nursery and a child care center, and an educational consultant. She also volunteered with organizations like the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League and the League of Women Voters, which eventually led to her political career.

Chisholm first ran for the New York State Assembly, where she served from 1964 to 1968. When asked why she became involved in politics, she said, "The people wanted me." She then decided to run for Congress in 1968 with the slogan "unbought and unbossed," which accurately reflected her strong personality.  She won the congressional seat in an upset victory over Independent candidate James Farmer and Republican candidate Ralph Carrano.

Chisholm was well-known for her uncompromising politics.  Shortly after her victory, she was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee., but she challenged it because she felt that it did not allow her to adequately represent her constituents in New York City. As a result, she was reassigned to the Veterans' Affairs Committee. She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Shirley Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005, but she remains a civil rights icon renown for breaking barriers in the world of politics.

"I want history to remember me not just as the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first Black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a Black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself," Chisholm said.

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