N.Y. honors pioneering congresswoman

Govenor David A. Paterson and Assemblyman Haakeem Jeffries unvail the plaque honoring the late Shirley A. Chisholm.
Photo by Lem Peterkin
Photo by Lem Peterkin

Gov. David A. Paterson announced on Oct. 4 that the New York State office building at 55 Hanson Place, downtown Brooklyn, has been renamed the Shirley A. Chisholm State Office Building in honor of the late, pioneering Brooklyn Congresswoman with Caribbean roots.

A plaque commemorating the achievements of Chisholm, whose mother was Barbadian and father Guyanese, was unveiled at a dedication ceremony at the building.

In 1968, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. She went on to represent Brooklyn for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983.

She also became the first major-party Black candidate for president of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The legislation to rename the building in her honor was signed into law by Paterson, the grandson of Jamaican and Grenadian immigrants, and sponsored by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery of the 18th Senate District and Assemb. Hakeem Jeffries of the 57th Assembly District, both in Brooklyn.

“Shirley Chisholm was a lifelong leader who worked tirelessly to better the lives of those in her community and across this country,” Paterson said.

“Her ability to inspire action in others is a gift that continues to resonate today,” he added.

“Naming this building in her honor will recognize her legacy in perpetuity and serve as a constant reminder of her dedication to positive change,” he continued.

Jeffries said Chisholm “blazed a trail from the streets of Brooklyn in 1972 to the White House in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama.”

“We all owe Shirley Chisholm a debt of gratitude for her dogged spirit and indomitable strength that changed the very social fabric of our nation forever,” he said.

“As America looks forward to a brighter future, we must never forget to honor those like Ms. Chisholm who helped pave the way and inspire a generation of leaders to seek justice and equality on behalf of the most vulnerable among us,” Jeffries added.

Montgomery said Chisholm inspired her to make a difference for her community through the political process.

“She demonstrated how politics can be a life of service and accomplishment for real issues: equality, education, children’s services, women’s rights, and the fight against poverty,” she said, stating that Chisholm worked for the good of all people.

“I am very proud that there will be a building in Brooklyn that stands in her honor, and I look forward to witnessing the next generation of leaders who are inspired by her priceless examples,” she added.

Bill Howard, the former senior administrative assistant to Chisholm, who represented the Chisholm family at the ceremony, said her work can be seen today on the streets of America.

“Her life’s work centered around a better quality of life for all people, especially our youth,” he said.

“Shirley never wanted to be remembered as the first Black woman to be elected to congress, or the first black person to make a bid for the presidency of the United States,” he added. “Rather, Shirley is remembered as she wanted to be – a catalyst for change in America.”

The renamed, 13-story facility was constructed in 1914-15 and designed by Trowbridge and Ackerman Architects as a flagship Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building.

Throughout its history, the building has been used in many different capacities, including a homeless shelter, State human services offices and a child development center.

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, who represents the 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn, said Chisholm was “an outspoken pioneer for Brooklyn, a dynamic hero, and an inspirational role model for millions of Americans.”

She said it was because of Chisholm’s groundbreaking work that women have been empowered to take leadership roles in America.

“I am humbled and deeply honored to represent a large portion of the congressional district that she once represented during her tenure as a U.S. Representative,” said Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.

Her congressional colleague, Edolphus Towns, representative for the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn, noted that Chisholm’s distinguished career was marked by so many “firsts.”

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (1924-2005 was born in Brooklyn. Her early education took place in Barbados, where she and her sisters lived with their grandmother during a period of financial hardship for the family.

At 10, Chisholm attended New York City public schools. After graduating cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1946, she began her career in early childhood education, first as a teacher and eventually as a school director.

In 1952, she earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University. Her political and community activism dates to her college years.

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