First African American Congresswoman
San Diego State University
In 1970 there were 435 members of the House of Representatives and 417 of them were white and male. Elected from the 12th District in Brooklyn, New York, specifically from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section where she lived, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first and only black woman in Congress.
Ms. Chisholm overcame enormous odds to acquire an education in the public schools, at Brooklyn College and at Columbia University. She soon learned that she had the intellectual, social, and emotional resources needed to succeed and she put those talents to good use. She began as a teacher concerned with child care and early childhood education and then moved on to the political arena. Before Congress, she was elected in 1964 to the New York State Assembly from the Fifty-fifth district, the same area encompassed in the 12th Congressional District, and soon demonstrated that she was particularly suited to the political environment.
She has earned the right to stand with our country's giants of democracy, civil rights and equal justice. She believed that the idea and the reality of democracy was larger than a single physical life and longer lasting than a moment of physical pain or even death. The monumental feat of being elected and becoming the first black Congresswoman, in such threatening and turbulent times, will forever be an exemplar in courage and strength and of service to others, for students to follow when they are of unsure of the "rightness" of their moral choices and actions.
Mrs. Chisholm has been an advocate for those who have traditionally been disenfranchised, and has given a voice to the ones never heard. She became chair of the Congressional Education and Labor Subcommittee and a member of the House Rules Committee, one of the most powerful Congressional committees. In 1972, she declared her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination and entered primaries in 12 states, winning 28 delegates and receiving 152 first-ballot votes at the convention. As a Congresswoman she co-sponsored a measure to establish a national commission on consumer protection and product safety; she called for the end of discrimination in the hiring practices of food store chains and automobile manufacturers; she proposed funding increases to extend the hours of child-care facilities and to expand services to include both middle class and low-income families; and she played a leading role to expand the coverage of minimum wage legislation to include domestic workers. She was elected to seven terms in the House of Representatives and declined to run for reelection in 1982 to pursue other interests such as writing, teaching, lecturing, and sharing her wisdom earned as a person of color and as a politician.
The Honorable Shirley Chisholm is the founder of the National Political Congress of Black Women, established to address social, economic, educational, and political issues that have an impact on black women. She has held the position of Purinton Professor at Mount Holyoke College and was a visiting scholar at Spelman College. She also has written two books, Unbought and Unbossed and The Good Fight which chronicle her life. Because of her, the country is different in ways that continue to be important to the present and the future.
For all her personal and professional achievements, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and San Diego State University are proud to confer on Shirley A. Chisholm the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.