Inspiration for New Members of Congress from Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy on Jan. 25, 1972. (Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran via Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons)

As the newest members of Congress arrived in Washington, D.C. for orientation on Nov. 13, a story by Deepti Hajela published the same day in Brooklyn Daily Eagle took a look at how some of the freshmen members could seek inspiration from the late Shirley Chisholm. Fifty years ago, the Brooklyn native became the first African-American women to win a seat in Congress. She represented central Brooklyn, including Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.

She didn’t let the institutional power her campaign faced rattle her, said Zinga Fraser, professor and director of the Shirley Chisholm Project on women and activism at Brooklyn College. Instead, Chisholm went with a campaign theme of “unbought and unbossed” and reached out to build a coalition of black women and others who had been excluded from the power structure for their electoral support. It was the same approach she took in 1972, when she ran for president as a Democrat and became the first black major-party presidential candidate, competing in 12 state primaries and winning 28 delegates.

Chisholm “called herself the people’s candidate because she wanted to bring on a new way to think about democracy, and who was privileged and who had the audacity to run,” Fraser said.

“We all just take so much strength and inspiration from her, to walk in her footsteps,” said Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, an organization that promotes the political power of black women as voters and candidates. “How she led, how she had no fear of speaking truth to power.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who represents Bed-Stuy and other central Brooklyn neighborhoods, recently introduced a bill that would posthumously award Chisholm with the Congressional Gold Medal.

To hear from Rep.-elect Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, New York State Attorney General-elect Letitia James and others on how Chisholm influenced their campaigns, go to Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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