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Photograph of Shirley Chisholm at antiwar demonstration

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm forged new paths for Black women in politics and challenged systemic racism, sexism and corruption.

Shaking Up the System

A hardback book titled Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm. The exterior cover had a paper book cover and a clear plastic book cover over that. The paper book cover is yellow with red and green text, centered, that reads: [SHIRLEY / CHISHOLM / UNBOUGHT / AND / UNBOSSED]. Underneath the main text, there are four black-and-white images of Shirley Chisholm speaking and gesturing with her hands. Green text, centered, below the images, reads: [The first black woman elected to Congress speaks / out on her life and on the American political system]. The binding reads, written vertically in red and green text reads: [SHIRLEY / CHISHOLM], [UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED]. Black text, written horizontally, reads: [HOUGHTON / MIFFLIN / COMPANY]. The back cover of the paper sleeve, in red text at the top, reads: [SHIRLEY / CHISHOLM]. Underneath in green text reads: [SPEAKS OUT ON]. The cover then lists various topics (in green text) and a blurb about each (in black text) underneath, aligned to the left. The front and back interior of the paper cover sleeve have a synopsis of the book continuing on both. The hardback cover itself is navy blue or black with the same colored type, and brown front and back interior covers. The interior pages, 177 pages in total, are off-white with black type.

Unbought and Unbossed, 1970

The first African American woman elected to Congress and the first Black candidate from a major party to run for president of the United States, Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005) carved out new roles for Black women in politics. Proclaiming herself “unbought and unbossed,” Chisholm sought to reform the system from within by battling against entrenched racism, sexism, and corruption. Her political career reflected her vision of an activist government that would serve the needs of all its citizens.

A hardback book titled Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm. The exterior cover had a paper book cover and a clear plastic book cover over that. The paper book cover is yellow with red and green text, centered, that reads: [SHIRLEY / CHISHOLM / UNBOUGHT / AND / UNBOSSED]. Underneath the main text, there are four black-and-white images of Shirley Chisholm speaking and gesturing with her hands. Green text, centered, below the images, reads: [The first black woman elected to Congress speaks / out on her life and on the American political system]. The binding reads, written vertically in red and green text reads: [SHIRLEY / CHISHOLM], [UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED]. Black text, written horizontally, reads: [HOUGHTON / MIFFLIN / COMPANY]. The back cover of the paper sleeve, in red text at the top, reads: [SHIRLEY / CHISHOLM]. Underneath in green text reads: [SPEAKS OUT ON]. The cover then lists various topics (in green text) and a blurb about each (in black text) underneath, aligned to the left. The front and back interior of the paper cover sleeve have a synopsis of the book continuing on both. The hardback cover itself is navy blue or black with the same colored type, and brown front and back interior covers. The interior pages, 177 pages in total, are off-white with black type.

Unbought and Unbossed, 1970

People had to know that it was possible for someone with decency and a fighting spirit to overcome the system by beating it with its own weapons.

Shirley Chisholm, 1970

Educator and Politician

Photograph of Shirley Chisholm gives victory sign after winning election to Congress

Shirley Chisholm gives victory sign after winning election to Congress, Brooklyn, New York, 1968

The daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924. She spent her early childhood in Barbados with her maternal grandmother, then returned to Brooklyn, where she attended the public schools and graduated from Brooklyn College. She pursued a career as an educator, and earned her master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University. Her interest in child welfare and other social justice issues, along with her talent for debate and public speaking, led her to become active in local and state politics. In 1964 she was elected to the New York State Assembly, representing the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, and in 1968 she successfully campaigned for election to the U.S. Congress.

Photograph of Shirley Chisholm gives victory sign after winning election to Congress

Shirley Chisholm gives victory sign after winning election to Congress, Brooklyn, New York, 1968

Voice of the People

Photograph of Shirley Chisholm supporting hospital workers’ strike

Shirley Chisholm supporting hospital workers’ strike, New York City, 1969

Photograph of Shirley Chisholm at antiwar demonstration

Shirley Chisholm at an antiwar demonstration, Washington, D.C., 1971

As a state and U.S. representative, Shirley Chisholm fought for policies to improve the lives of working people, women, children, the elderly, and minorities. She worked to prevent employment discrimination, protect women’s reproductive rights, fund college scholarships for minority students, provide unemployment coverage for domestic workers, and guarantee access to day care, health care, and other social services. She also opposed military spending on the Vietnam War, urging Congress instead to prioritize spending on social and economic programs to alleviate poverty and injustice. Throughout her political career, Chisholm embodied her role as the “voice of the people” by speaking out against institutional corruption and entrenched inequality. After her historic run for president in 1972, she continued to serve in Congress until 1983.

Photograph of Shirley Chisholm supporting hospital workers’ strike

Shirley Chisholm supporting hospital workers’ strike, New York City, 1969

Photograph of Shirley Chisholm at antiwar demonstration

Shirley Chisholm at an antiwar demonstration, Washington, D.C., 1971

Thumbnail for I Am Your Instrument video

"I Am Your Instrument"

In these 1972 presidential campaign speeches, Shirley Chisholm expresses the themes that defined her political role as a candidate of the people and a catalyst for change.

Chisholm for President

A political poster for United States presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. Off-white with black and red type. At top, it reads "BRING U.S. TOGETHER" in black with the "U.S." in red. Underneath there is a black-and-white image of Shirley Chisholm sitting at a table with papers in front of her, speaking and gesturing with her hands, wearing all white. This image is bordered on the left and right by a light gray color block. At the bottom, reads "VOTE CHISHOLM 1972/ UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED" with "CHISHOLM" in black and everythign else in red, in various font sizes. In the bottom right corner, in small red type, reads "N.G. SLATER CORP., 220 W. 19 ST. - NYC - 10011."  On reverse, handwritten in purple marker, reads "Chisholm For President/ 61 Henry St./ Saratoga N.Y./ 584-7015/ Rev. Kennedy/ Mrs. Molineaux" at the top, aligned towards the left.

“Bring U.S. Together,” poster for Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign, 1972

In January 1972, Shirley Chisholm announced her candidacy for president of the United States. She outlined a platform that reflected the social justice policies she had worked for in Congress, including the fight against poverty and racial discrimination. While challenging the barriers of race and gender that she experienced as a Black woman, she refused to position herself as a candidate who was solely focused on the interests of African Americans, or the interests of women. Instead, she pledged to fight for the interests of all Americans who had been “boxed out of the opportunities to participate equally and enthusiastically in building a strong and just society.” Although Chisholm’s campaign drew widespread popular support, as well as an endorsement from the Black Panther Party, she did not receive public endorsements from either the National Black Political Convention or from major national women’s organizations, and she lost the Democratic Party nomination to Senator George McGovern.

A political poster for United States presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. Off-white with black and red type. At top, it reads "BRING U.S. TOGETHER" in black with the "U.S." in red. Underneath there is a black-and-white image of Shirley Chisholm sitting at a table with papers in front of her, speaking and gesturing with her hands, wearing all white. This image is bordered on the left and right by a light gray color block. At the bottom, reads "VOTE CHISHOLM 1972/ UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED" with "CHISHOLM" in black and everythign else in red, in various font sizes. In the bottom right corner, in small red type, reads "N.G. SLATER CORP., 220 W. 19 ST. - NYC - 10011."  On reverse, handwritten in purple marker, reads "Chisholm For President/ 61 Henry St./ Saratoga N.Y./ 584-7015/ Rev. Kennedy/ Mrs. Molineaux" at the top, aligned towards the left.

“Bring U.S. Together,” poster for Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign, 1972

Photograph of Meeting of the National Women’s Political Caucus

Members of the National Women’s Political Caucus at the Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida, 1972

Catalyst for Change

Photograph of Sojourner Truth Bust in the U.S. Capitol

The NCBW-installed Sojourner Truth bust in the U.S. Capitol

As co-founder of the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW), Shirley Chisholm helped to empower women to become catalysts for social change. Founded in 1984, the NCBW established chapters in major cities throughout the United States; each is driven by its mission to increase the number of women in policy-making positions in government, healthcare, and education. The chapters strive to develop platforms that support the political, economic, and cultural aspirations of women and the welfare of their families. In 2009, to highlight the organization's beliefs and values related to the liberation of African American women, the NCBW installed in the U.S. Capitol a bronze bust of Sojourner Truth, the renowned 19th-century abolitionist and women's rights activist.

Photograph of Sojourner Truth Bust in the U.S. Capitol

The NCBW-installed Sojourner Truth bust in the U.S. Capitol