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 (Jan. 1, 2005) near Daytona Beach, friends said. She was 80.
"She was our Moses that opened the Red Sea for us," Robert E. Williams, president of the NAACP in Flagler County, told the Associated Press late Sunday. He did not have the details of her death.
Ms. Chisholm, who was raised in a predominantly black New York City neighborhood and was elected to the U.S. House in 1968, was a riveting speaker who often criticized Congress as being too 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.
She went to Congress the same year Richard Nixon was elected to the White House and served until two years into Ronald Reagan tenure as president.
She ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1972. Pragmatism and power were watchwords.
In her book, Unbought and Unbossed, she recounted the campaign that brought her to Congress and wrote of her concerns about that body:
"Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men."
Born Shirley St. Hill in New York City on Nov. 30, 1924, she was the eldest of four daughters.
Her father, an unskilled laborer in a burlap bag factory, and her mother, a domestic, scrimped to educate their children.
At age 3, Shirley was sent to live on her grandmother's farm in Barbados.
She moved back to New York when she was 11 and went on to graduate cum laude from Brooklyn College and earn a master's degree from Columbia University.
She was married twice. Her 1949 marriage to Conrad Chisholm ended in divorce in February, 1977. Later that year she married Arthur Hardwick Jr. She had no children.
Once discussing what her legacy might be, she commented, "I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That's how I'd like to be remembered."