Shirley Chisholm: Portrait Of A Pioneer Tell Me More explores stories of prominent women in its series Tell Me More About Women's History. Forty years ago, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to be sworn in to Congress. In 1972, Chisholm also became the first black presidential candidate for a major political party. The program offers a remembrance.
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Shirley Chisholm: Portrait Of A Pioneer

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Shirley Chisholm: Portrait Of A Pioneer

Shirley Chisholm: Portrait Of A Pioneer

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Finally, as part of our series Tell Me More About Women's History, we want to take a moment to remember Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Forty years ago, she was the first African-American woman sworn into the U.S. Congress. And in 1972, Shirley Chisholm pursued another first.

Ms. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM (Former Representative, Democrat, New York): I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I'm not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman and I'm equally proud of that. I'm not the candidate of any political bosses or fat cats or special interests. I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.

MARTIN: The new era met with some resistance from whites and blacks. Shirley Chisholm became aware of the lack of support on the campaign trail. She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, but most of its members endorsed the opposing candidate. But throughout the campaign, she was never shy in telling those who stood in her way to move aside.

Ms. CHISHOLM: The hour has come in America when all of us in this room can no longer be the passive recipients of whatever the politics of a nation may decree for us as citizens within this realm. But if we have the courage of our convictions, if we desire to make a contribution to make this nation bring about the fulfillment of the American dream so that it is meaningful to every segment in America, we will forget what the world will say, whether we are in our place or out of our place.

MARTIN: Shirley Chisholm refused to back down.

Ms. CHISHOLM: Not only am I literally and figuratively the dark horse, I'm actually the poor horse. The only thing that I have going for me is my soul and my commitment to the American people.

MARTIN: In the end she did not win the nomination, but she did receive 151 delegate votes. She continued to serve in Congress until 1982. Shirley Chisholm died on January 1st 2005. Less than a year before her death, Shirley Chisholm was asked how she wanted to be remembered. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recalls her answer.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Speaker of the House, Democrat, California): I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, or the first black woman to make a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.

MARTIN: Pelosi was speaking at an event last week on Capitol Hill where a portrait of Shirley Chisholm was unveiled. Several members of Congress whose lives have been touched by Chisholm spoke at the unveiling. New York Representative Ed Towns and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee shared their thoughts.

Representative ED TOWNS (Democrat, New York): Shirley Chisholm was so special. She was a role model for politicians, non-politicians. She was a role model for men and women.

Representative BARBARA LEE (Democrat, California; Chair, Congressional Black Caucus): She is the reason that I became involved in politics. And, you know, I know without her and without her mentorship, without her support, and without her tough love, I would not be here today.

MARTIN: Shirley Chisholm's portrait now hangs in the U.S. Capitol. We'll have more on Congresswoman Chisholm at our web site later today. That's the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org. And that's our program for today.

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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