How Shirley Chisholm Kicked Down the Door by Hayven Williams

Black and white photo of Shirley Chisholm, smiling and wearing a collared shirt and glasses. Colorful collage background.

How Shirley Chisholm Kicked Down the Door by Hayven Williams

On November 30, 1924 Shirley St Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York to Caribbean parents Charles and Ruby St Hill. Shirley is the oldest of four children. A good chunk of her childhood was spent in her mothers home country of Barbados with her grandparents living on their farm. During that time her parents were working in Bedford-Stuyvesant during the great depression to create a stable life for their daughters. At the age of ten Shirley was back in her parents’ care in New York where she received a public school education and was top of her class showcasing her immense intelligence amongst her white peers. While she was in high school she received multiple scholarships to prestigious universities, but with the lack of finances she made the decision to attend Brooklyn University. In 1946 she graduated from Brooklyn College where she received a BA degree in sociology. For the next 7 years Chisholm worked as a nursery teacher and a daycare director. During this time she was a part of multiple organizations, one of the most prominent being the League of Women Voters. In 1949 she graduated from Columbia University with her MA in early childhood education. During this time she married Conrad Chisholm and the two settled down in Brooklyn. 

In the 1960’s Chisholm decided to dive head first into politics. She took this leap by running for New York state assembly. Chisholm couldn’t have been placed in a better position. Not only was she one of the best candidates, this was also in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement where people were fighting so hard for not only racial equality but gender equality as well. In 1964 Chisholm took her first step into politics when she was elected into the assembly. During her four year tenure with the assembly she was a sponsor of fifty bills. However, only eight passed. Three of which she had a personal connection with. She passed a bill that allowed

low income students to receive a higher education and reversed a bill that allowed female teachers to lose their teaching position while on maternity leave. Chisholm stayed on the assembly for four years before deciding that she was ready for something bigger. In 1968 

Chisholm ran for congress, competing with the well renowned civil rights activist James Farmer. While the two black candidates were fighting for a spot the media was turning a blind eye to such a historic moment. In her campaign Chisholm used many tactics to show her citizens that she was the best option for them. She spoke in fluent Spanish to garner the support of the hispanic community, she rode around town in a truck using a blow horn to sway the public to her side. Chisholm beat Farmer with voters choosing Chisholm in a 2 to 1 ratio thus making her the first black woman to ever be voted into congress. This was the start of a very long career in the house of representatives. While in congress she worked hard to represent those that voted in favor of her, spending her time serving on several different committees two being agriculture and rules and education. These two not only have a connection because she is a teacher, but because she grew up on her grandparents farm in Barbados. Chisholm always focused her attention on things that directly affected her appointed district. 

Chisholm held a strong stance for things she felt passionate about and this showed during the Vietnam war. During this time the U.S. spent billions of dollars funding the war, Chisholm argued that the U.S. had no business doing this while there were millions of Americans going hungry. Chisholm spent her earlier days in congress fighting for women and their ability to do what they please with their body. Just like today Chisholm had to stand in front of a room full of men and fight tooth and nail for women to have abortion rights. Not only did she fight for women to have the privilege to police their own body, but she also fought for women to be able

work less stereotypical jobs. She believed women were capable of being much more than teachers, librarians and secretaries. 

While being the first black woman in congress was a huge milestone and would leave her in the history books forever, she wanted more than that. In 1972 Chisholm decided to run for president; focusing on much more than just civil rights. Chisholm focused on the subpar judicial system, gun control and police reform, many of which we are still fighting for today. The infamous slogan she used for her campaign was “Unbought and Unbossed”. Although she had aspiration holding the highest office in the country she knew that it was likely unattainable. At this time when Presidential runners held a convention they weren’t aware of the nominee anybody could win. She made a deal with the other two presidential runners, senator Hubert Humphrey and senator George Mcgovern; she told them if they agreed to a few of her conditions she would give them her delegates. The conditions were a woman vice president, a black secretary of housing and urban development and an indigenous person as interior secretary. Chisholm did not win the election but she made up 10 percent of the party votes which is an accomplishment on its own. After the loss, Chisholm went back to congress and stayed there for another ten years. 

In 1983 Chisholm left politics and became a professor at Mt. Holyoke university. She also co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. She would later be nominated as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica by president Bill Clinton, but she ultimately said no due to her decline in health. On January 1, 2005 at the of 80 Shirley Chisholm passed away in Ormond Beach, Florida. 

Shirley Chisholm did not just open the door she kicked it down. She’s created spaces for people who have never had a space. She is an important part of American history without her, there is no AOC or Ilham Omar or Stacey Adams. Chisholm’s legacy lives through every woman who has ever sat in a congress seat or worked in a predominantly male job. She is one of the strongest representations we have of a fighter. One of the best leaders this country has ever seen even if she wasn’t head of the country. Her legacy will not be left out of the history books, people will know her name for years to come.

Hayven Williams is a Legacy Project Youth from Fresno, CA. She is a Junior in high school.