As we just finished a historic presidential election, I thought I’d repost an article I wrote for another website. This is the story of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for president of the United States of America.
Shirley Chisholm was on the news quite a bit when I was in elementary school. She was an inspiration to young woman during the 1970s. She has always been one of my heroes.
This article is a mix of genealogical and historical research I did on Shirley Chisholm.
In 1972, an African American woman ran for President of the United States. Her name was Shirley (St. Hill) Chisholm. From the moment she threw her hat in the ring, a ripple was felt in the fabric of America. I was only in second grade at the time, but I was aware that this was a big moment in history. She was on TV and in the newspapers. Everyone around me was talking about that “woman who was running for President.” I remember thinking “Right On!” (Yes, it was the 1970s!) I didn’t really understand how hard her fight would be, but I cheered her on none-the-less.
When Shirley Chisholm passed away, I wonder who she really was. How was she able to accomplish so much at a time when a woman, let alone an African American woman, was scoffed at for being “out of her league”? I decided to see if what I could find on the Internet. Perhaps there were some genealogy records or newspaper articles that would fill in her story.
Shirley’s parents were immigrants. Her father, Charles St. Hill, was a native of British Guiana. He came to the US in 1920. Her mother, Ruby Seale, was a native of Barbados. She arrived here in 1921. Their oldest daughter, Shirley Anita St. Hill, was born 30 Nov 1924, Brooklyn, NY.
In the 1930 census, Charles and Ruby were raising a family on Watkins Street in Brooklyn, NY. Charles worked in a burlap factory and Ruby was a seamstress. They had three children at the time: Shirley, Odessa, and Muriel. A fourth daughter, Selma, was born after the 1930 census.
Although Shirley is listed in that census as living with her parents, she wasn’t even in New York at the time. In 1927, around the age of 3 years old, Shirley was sent to Barbados to live with her Grandmother. She was educated at British schools in Barbados. Then at the age of 11, her parents asked for her to come home.
In 1946, she graduated with honors from Brooklyn College. She earned a BA in Sociology. In 1952, she earned an MA in Elementary Education at Colombia.
She was married twice, but did not have any children. Her first marriage in 1949 was to a Jamaican, Conrad Q. Chisholm. Charles worked as a Private Investigator. Both were involved in local politics. Charles and Shirley were divorced in 1977. She then married Arthur J. Hardwick, a State Assemblyman. He died in 1986.
Shirley worked in various service related positions throughout her life. She worked her way up from Teacher to Director of the Friend in Need Nursery and the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center. She was also an Educational Consultant for the New York Department of Social Services.
In 1964, she stepped into the political ring. That year, she ran for the New York State Assembly and won. Then in 1968, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representative by a 3 to 1 margin. She was a unique political. She believed that the people she represented came first. She fought tremendous odds against a political system that did not welcome her. She never let her detractors get the upper hand. Right from the start, she let them know that she would not be pushed around. Her first assignment was to the House Forestry Committee, which she felt would not help her constituents. She then did something that was unheard of from freshman politicians, she demanded a transfer. This lead to a seat on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
In 1972, Shirley made an attempt at the Presidency. Her chances were slim. However, she was able to shine a spotlight on many issues including the debate over women’s role in society. She retired in 1982 ending a political career that spanned 18 years.
Shirley’s achievements are many. She was the First African American woman to run for President. She was co-founder of the National Organization of Women and the National Political Congress of Black Women. She was named ambassador to Jamaica in 1993. And, she wrote two autobiographies: “Unbought and Unbossed” and “The Good Fight”.
Though she stood just five feet tall, she didn’t let anyone walk over her! She was a person of towering stature who lead with character and integrity. Her example has inspired many over the decades. Her death in January 2005 reminds us of a pioneer who served the people with honor and integrity. We need more like her!
Shirley Chisholm passed away 1 Jan 2005, at the age of 80, in Ormond Beach, Florida. She was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY with her second husband, Arthur Hardwick. At the funeral, a ceremonial flag was handed to her sister, Muriel St. Hill.
A Couple of Quotes from Shirley:
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”
Shirley Chisholm announced her nomination for President with these words:
“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 the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people.” (S. Chisholm, 25 Jan 1972)
In her book, “The Good Fight”, Shirley writes this about running for President:
“I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo”
1. 1930 U.S. Census, Brooklyn Borough, Kings County, NY; Enumeration District 566, Sheet 2B. Entry for Charles St. Hill.
2. Shirley Chisholm Dies at Age 80.CNN Website, 3 Jan 2005.
3. Quelques membres du clan Chisholm à travers le monde (A Few Chisholms Around the World)
4. Obituary: Shirley Chisholm, First Black Congresswomen Dies at 80.By Coralie Carlson, Post-Gazette Online Newspaper, 4 Jan 2005.
5. Shirley Chisholm Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia.
6. Shirley Chisholm National Women’s Hall of Fame Website.
7. Chisholm, Shirley Anita, 1924-2005 Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present.
8. Chisholm Services are Set in Buffalo New York Times Online Edition, 11 Jan 2005.
9. Shirley Chisholm Find A Grave Website. Record added 3 Jan 2005.
10.Those She Touched Remember a Trailblazer” By Eileen Zafiro. News-Journal Online.com, MSNBC Website.
11.Chisholm, Shirley A.: Candidate Details PageOurCampaigns.com