Political trailblazer Shirley Chisholm honored in New York City exhibit

New York, New York - She was the first African American woman in Congress and the first woman and African American to seek the presidential nomination from one of the two major US political parties.

Shirley Chisholm has been honored with her own exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York called Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisholm at 100.
Shirley Chisholm has been honored with her own exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York called Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisholm at 100.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Shirley Chisholm, who would have turned 100 in November, has served as an inspiration to several generations of female and minority politicians, including current Vice President Kamala Harris.

Less than five months before a hotly contested presidential election pitting Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump, the Museum of the City of New York is honoring Chisholm's legacy with a special exhibit.

Zinga Fraser, the co-curator of the show titled Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisholm at 100, said honoring the politician's legacy is even more important during an election year.

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"If there's any person to remind us about democracy and what's possible and where we need to go," that would be Chisholm, Fraser said.

Writing on Chisholm's birthday on November 30, 2020, after she had just been elected the first African American vice president and the first woman in that role, Harris said Chisholm "paved the way for me and so many others."

"We celebrate her brilliance and boldness to break down barriers, fight to increase the minimum wage, and speak for those who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice in the political process," Harris wrote on Instagram.

Museum of the City of New York honors Chisholm's trailblazing political path

The Museum of the City of New York's special exhibit opened on June 14, 2024.
The Museum of the City of New York's special exhibit opened on June 14, 2024.  © Elza GOFFAUX / AFP

Born in 1924 in Brooklyn to parents from Barbados and Guyana, Chisholm transformed American democracy in the 1960s and 1970s with her political slogan "Unbought and Unbossed."

In 1968, Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress and, four years later, launched a bid for the White House. While she didn't win the nomination of the Democratic Party, she still served as a catalyst for change.

"I ran because somebody had to do it first," she reflected later. "I ran because most people think the country is not ready for a Black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate. Someday..."

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During her political career, Chisholm fought for abortion rights, food assistance, education, and worker protection, as well as police and prison reform. She also campaigned against the war in Vietnam and apartheid in South Africa.

But even more important is the example she set, according to Fraser.

"I think what you also see as a part of her legacy is just more in terms of women and women of color in the office," Fraser said.

Before Chisholm was elected to the House of Representatives in 1968, there were only four Black men and 11 white women or other minorities in Congress.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, there are now 28 Black women in the House (out of 435 representatives, including 126 women) and one in the Senate (out of 100 senators, including 25 women).

Who was Shirley Chisholm?

During the 1972 primaries, Chisholm recruited student and activist Barbara Lee, who went on to serve as California's Democratic representative in the House since 1998.

"Shirley Chisholm was more than a mentor to me," 77-year-old Lee wrote on X. "She inspired me to live a life of service, fearlessness, & dedication to justice & equity."

Besides the exhibit, this year Chisholm is also being honored by a Netflix documentary that was released in March.

In Shirley, the trailblazing politician, played by actor Regina King, confronts other lawmakers and decides to compete in the primaries alone.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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