Peering from behind her gold-rimmed spectacles stood a woman whose words still echo not just in the Bedford-Stuyvesant Baptist Church where she addressed a cheering crowd of about 500 in 1972, but in the present-day retelling of a history that paved the way for candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud; I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people of America,” Shirley Chisholm said back in the 1970s.
Fifty years later, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Yvette Clarke, along with other elected officials, introduced legislation that would award Chisholm the congressional gold medal — the highest honor that can be conferred by the House of Representatives.
The bill, which was introduced Oct. 31, has 50 original co-sponsors.
“She ran for presidency in 1972 and her theme was catalyst for change; and in many ways she was the catalyst of the change that came in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama,” said Jeffries.
Chisholm has her own list of firsts: first African-American woman in Congress, first woman and first African-American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from a major party, founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and later the Congressional Women’s Caucus.
Her liberal ideology was often surprising. She tirelessly advocated for abortion rights, immigration rights (being a child of Caribbean immigrants herself), vocally protested the Vietnam War and raised concerns about the deeply rooted sexism and racism ingrained in Congress and elsewhere.
When Chisholm first got to Congress, she was assigned to the agriculture department which, according to Congressman Joe Crowley, may not necessarily resonate with New York City.
“How much more can you give a shock to someone from Brooklyn, except Shirley Chisholm took that as a sign,” he said “She turned lemons into lemonade. That’s where the nutrition programs were, food stamps were and she made it not only relevant to her district in New York but people across the country who were struggling with issues of nutrition.”
“Her motto unbought and unbossed is one of the greatest motto of all times,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney also a supporter of the bill.
Another woman whose ideologies resonates with that of Chisholm’s is Assemb. Latrice Monique Walker. She recounted a recent incident that made her think of Chisholm and her famous saying, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
At a recent hearing, Walker, along with two other senate women, picked up their chairs and moved to the front.
“Our seats were at the back and something just didn’t feel right,” Walker said. “She [Chisholm] would tell me that I need to take my seat and push it up to the table, which I did. She had this unmitigated audacity to say that nobody puts us back and we each bought our seats to the front.”