US stamp honors Shirley Chisholm’s legacy

Shirley Chisholm.
AP Photo/Sandi Sissel

On Friday, Jan. 31, at 11:00 a.m., Brooklyn Borough Hall will host the First-Day-Of Issue ceremony for the Shirley Chisholm commemorative stamp. This Black Heritage forever stamp kicks-off Black History Month.

Characterized by fire and commitment, daughter of Brooklyn Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, served New York’s (then) 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983.

The Supreme Court order for a newly carved, reapportioned congressional district created from Bed-Stuy, Chisholm’s neighborhood, inspired her to run.

Chisholm’s father emigrated from Guyana; her mother came from Barbados. The oldest of four daughters, the young Shirley St. Hill lived with her maternal grandmother in Barbados for seven years until she was ten. Of her Bajan “strict traditional British-style” education, she thanked her parents in her autobiography, “Unbought and Unbossed.”

From Brooklyn College, she graduated cum laude with a B.A. in sociology and she earned an M.A. in education from Columbia, working for years in the field of early childhood education. The second African-American woman to serve in Albany, in 1964, Chisholm was elected to the New York state legislature.

The intent of the Democratic reapportionment of the central Brooklyn Congressional district was to send an African-American to the House of Representatives. In the Democratic primary, among other opponents, her closest in numbers was State Senator William C. Thompson (father of former Comptroller Bill Thompson) who she defeated. In the general election, she defeated liberal Republican African American long-time civil rights activist James Farmer.

Chisholm’s campaign motto was “Unbought and Unbossed” and among issues that made her stand out against opponent Farmer (they agreed on many points) she highlighted discrimination against women. Her district with a liberal bend and 80% registered Democrats gave her 67 percent of the vote. Chisholm’s freshman Congressional class included two other new African-Americans boosting the number to nine

Chisholm also was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1971 and the Congressional Women’s Caucus in 1977.

After assignments to the House Agricultural Committee and Veteran Affairs Committee she was assigned to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee. When she retired she was the third highest-ranking member.

In 1972, she ran for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, arguing that none of the other candidates represented interests of blacks and inner-city poor. Her name appeared on 12 primary ballots and she won 152 delegates from Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey, 10 percent of the total. She became the first major party black candidate and the first woman to run as a Democrat for U.S. president.

The award winning 2004 film “Shirley Chisholm ‘72: Unbought and Unbossed” directed by Shola Lynch documents Chisholm’s presidential bid and features archival footage, period music, interviews with supporters, opponents, observers, and Chisholm’s own commentary. Now, available on DVD, the film had aired on PBS, and won a Peabody Award. Author/activist Amiri Baraka who recently died is among those interviewed in the film.

Chisholm died in 2005 at the age of 80 at her home in Florida where she retired.

Seating is limited at the Boro Hall commemorative ceremony; RSVP 866-268-3243.

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