U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is the author of H.R. 4856 directing the Joint Committee of the Library to obtain a statue of the late Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to serve in Congress, for placement in the U.S. Capitol Building. Clarke introduced the legislation on the House floor on Jan. 19 and referred it to the House Committee on Administration by the presiding officer.
“This tribute would honor Shirley Chisholm and her remarkable contributions in the U.S. Capitol, alongside other outstanding Americans who shaped our nation’s history, such as the late President George Washington and civil rights icon Rosa Parks,” Clarke said in a statement. “A Shirley Chisholm statute would forever be a legacy to an extraordinary woman and political powerhouse who helped those who were vulnerable and underrepresented.”
Chisholm, a nursery school teacher, served in the New York State General Assembly from 1965-1968 before her historic election to House in 1968. She was a 1971 co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and, in the same year, also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Chisholm made a historic run for president in 1972 and managed to get 152 delegates to go to the national Democratic convention that year despite limited media coverage. She is considered to be the first Black to make a serious run for the presidential nomination for a major party.
Throughout Chisholm’s tenure in the House, she authored bills that improved the nutritional needs of children and families and brought much needed resources to her Brooklyn-based district. She served as the secretary of the Democratic Caucus for a few terms.
In 1970, Chisholm published her book, “Unbought and Unbossed” that chronicled her life story, political career, and views on national, international, civil rights and feminist issues.
In the coming years, Chisholm got the committee that she wanted, the Education and Labor Committee, because of her training as an educator and the many challenges that her constituents had with New York City’s education system.
Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983 and taught at Mount Holyoke and Spelman colleges as well as being active on the speaker circuit. In 1984, when former vice president and Democratic Party nominee Walter Mondale didn’t interview a Black woman as a running mate, she helped found the National Political Congress of Black Women, now renamed the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW).
Chisholm helped the Rev. Jesse Jackson in his bids for the 1984 and 1988 Democratic Party presidential nomination. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Chisholm to be the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica but she withdrew due to illness.
Chisholm died at her home in Florida in 2005. In 2015, President Obama awarded Chisholm the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.
Dr. E. Faye Williams, president and CEO of the NCBW, first met Chisholm in 1972 when the representative was running for president and Williams was working with a teacher’s association in Atlanta. “I admired Shirley for running for president back then,” Williams told the AFRO. “Even though I knew she wasn’t going to win, I think that her candidacy made a statement about Black women being involved in the political process.”
Williams said the NCBW worked hard to put a statue of Sojourner Truth in the U.S. Capitol and expects to do the same for Chisholm. “I agree with what Rep. Clarke is doing,” Williams said. “We would welcome another memorial to a Black woman in the U.S. Capitol because there are not too many there. It is important that young people know who Shirley Chisholm was because she did great things.”
Clarke’s bill has 56 co-sponsors, including D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) who interacted with Chisholm throughout her life as the chair of the New York Human Rights Commission and the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Twenty-nine of the 56 co-sponsors of Clarke’s bill are members of the CBC, including the chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
The statue is important to Clarke as she represents part of Chisholm’s old district in Brooklyn and her mother, Dr. Una Clarke, was elected to the New York City Council and served from 1992-2001 with Chisholm’s help.