Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and an outspoken advocate for women and minorities during seven terms in the House, died Saturday near Daytona Beach...
MIAMI — Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and an outspoken advocate for women and minorities during seven terms in the House, died Saturday near Daytona Beach, friends said. She was 80.
“She was our Moses that opened the Red Sea for us,” Robert Williams, president of the NAACP in Flagler County, said yesterday. He did not have details about her death.
Ms. Chisholm, who was elected in 1968 to the House representing New York, was a riveting speaker who often criticized Congress as being clubby and unresponsive. “My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn’t always discuss for reasons of political expediency,” she told voters.
Newly elected, Ms. Chisholm was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she thought was irrelevant to her urban constituency. In an unheard-of move, she demanded reassignment and got switched to the Veterans Affairs Committee.
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Not long afterward she voted for Hale Boggs, who was white, over John Conyers, who was black, for majority leader. Boggs rewarded her with a place on the prized Education and Labor Committee and she was its third ranking member when she left.
She ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1972. When rival candidate and ideological opposite George Wallace was shot, she visited him in the hospital, an act that appalled her followers.
“He said, ‘What are your people going to say?’ I said: ‘I know what they’re going to say. But I wouldn’t want what happened to you to happen to anyone.’ He cried and cried,” she recalled.
And when she needed support to extend the minimum wage to domestic workers two years later, it was Wallace who got her the votes from Southern members of Congress.
Pragmatism and power were watchwords. “Women have learned to flex their political muscles. You got to flex that muscle to get what you want,” she said.
Ms. Chisholm was born Shirley St. Hill in New York City on Nov. 30, 1924, the eldest of four daughters of a Guyanese father and a Barbadian mother.
She graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College and earned a master’s from Columbia University.
She started her career as director of a day-care center, and in 1964 was elected to the state Assembly.
Ms. Chisholm was married twice and had no children.
Once discussing what her legacy might be, she said, “I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.”