U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie, Mill Basin, Coney Island, parts of Queens) and Yvette Clarke (D-Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Park Slope) yesterday introduced HR 4856, a bipartisan bill that would posthumously award former Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm the nation’s highest honor — the Congressional Gold Medal.
The bill also calls for the erection of a statue of her in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Chisholm was Brooklyn’s first black Congressional member and was elected to the House in 1968 in the former 12th congressional district, which was created as part of the Voting Rights Act. She served until 1983 and her district is now split into the districts that Jeffries and Clarke each represent. “She was such a bad sister, she needed two heirs,” Jeffries joked, referring to himself and Clarke.
In 1972, Chisholm ran for president, becoming the first African American to run for the position on a major party ticket and the first woman to do so as a Democrat.
The timing of the introduction was deliberate, as it marked the 50th anniversary of Chisholm’s first electoral victory. It also marked the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, about which Clarke asserted, “We can’t forget from whence we’ve came.”
Clarke went on. “[Chisholm] paved the way for many other women, including myself, to run in all halls of the government, including 400-plus black women running in 2018,” she said. “The many generations who followed have reaped the benefits of her labor.”
Jeffries agreed, emphasizing her campaign theme as a catalyst for change. “Shirley Chisholm got it started and Barack Obama finished the job,” he said.
Jeffries then compared Chisholm, known for her tough, assertive, no-nonsense style, to some of the other politicians who she helped inspire. “Before there was Maxine Waters, there was Barbara Jordan. Before there was Barbara Jordan, there was Shirley Chisholm,” he said.
Also in attendance was bill cosponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens), who called Chisholm “an inspiration to my life,” and fondly remembered her efforts to support Ted Kennedy’s 1980 primary bid against Jimmy Carter, which culminated in Kennedy’s victory in New York. “There’s a movement to name a battleship after her, and it’s fitting. She fought for what’s right” said Maloney.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx), another cosponsor, was also there. Sharing his passion for history, he talked about how one of her first committee assignments was on the agriculture committee, seemingly irrelevant to her district. “She turned lemons into lemonade since she knew that’s where nutrition and food stamps were…She was no one’s fool,” said Crowley.
On the content of the legislation, Crowley said that, “It’s right and fitting that she have a statue, but also right and fitting that she have the highest reward from Congress.” “George Washington won it first. She won’t be the last but she deserved no less.”