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New York leaders credit late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm for paving the way for anyone to enter politics

Shirley Chisholm credited for paving the way for all to enter politics
Shirley Chisholm credited for paving the way for all to enter politics 03:41

NEW YORK -- She called herself "unbought and unbossed."

More than 50 years after Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman to run for president, local and state leaders, and even Vice President Kamala Harris, credit her for paving the way for all to enter politics.

From growing up on tree-lined Prospect Avenue in Crown Heights to the halls of Congress, the late congresswoman set out to make a change.

"She was feisty, direct, but also had a good sense of humor," said Dr. Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York Conference. "I knew her as a resident of Brooklyn and the work she had done in education."

Dukes remembers being with Chisholm in January 1972, the day she was nominated as the Democratic candidate for president.

"Shirley Chisholm, for women, set the stage that opened the door that people had to look and respect women in a different light, that this was not just for male clubs," Dukes said.

Chisholm didn't ask for permission to run or donations; hence her campaign slogan, "Unbought and unbossed."

"What was her attitude when she lost?" CBS New York's Lisa Rozner asked. 

"Her attitude was she didn't lose, she began a process," Dukes said.

"Chisholm still is the first person who gets to the convention. We have yet to have a woman get all the way to the convention," explained Brooklyn College professor Zinga Fraser. "She says, I am going to insert another discussion around policies that the men around the table would not acknowledge. Chisholm is talking about LGBTQ rights, Chisholm is talking about the environment, she's talking about a woman's right to choose."

Chisholm was known for saying, "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."

Her political career started in 1964 as a state assemblywoman. She ran for Congress without the support of party leadership and won anyway, making her the first African American female representative.

Before all that, the Brooklyn College and Columbia alum was in early childhood education.

"I used to ask, 'How can we do more?' I wanted a community center," current Assemblywoman Monique Chandler-Waterman said.

Proudly wearing a Chisholm pin, Chandler-Waterman says her road from running a daycare to Albany was made possible by Chisholm.

Soon, a new community center in Chisholm's name will go in East Flatbush.

Her family is from Barbados, like Chisholm, who spent some of her childhood there.

"It makes me feel that you can do anything," Chandler-Waterman said. "I like to think her energy and what she embodied is instilled in all of us."

In recent years, Black women have run for Congress in record numbers. The hope is that soon a monument dedicated to Chisholm, as well as a Netflix movie, will inspire millions more people.

"Shirley," starring actress Regina King, will chronicle her 1972 presidential run. Fraser was a historical consultant on the film.

"A lot of the work that she was doing then and doing now is really about changing the political discourse and making it be representative of all people," Fraser said.

On Capitol Hill, she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation that would help women, children, immigrants, those with low income and people of color.

Before she died in 2005, Chisholm said she wanted to be remembered as a catalyst of change, and in 2024, the tide keeps rolling.

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