WNY honors Shirley Chisholm, the 1st Black woman to run for president (Spectrum News)

Viktoria Hallikaar - Spectrum News

March 29, 2022

Originally published in Spectrum News on March 29, 2022.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to run for president.

While her political roots are in New York City, her personal ones remained in Western New York.

“She always fought for change and she wanted to give voice to people who didn't necessarily have a voice,” said Laura Fitzgerald, the digital memorialization coordinator and historian for Forest Lawn Cemetery.

If you don’t know who Shirley Chisholm is, you should look her up.

She was a force the be reckoned with, in a time when it was easier to be silent than to speak up.

“She just truly believed in herself, her principles, her education, and her words," said Fitzgerald. "I think we can all learn a lot from that, especially today."

The first Black congresswoman in the U.S., Chisholm represented an area in Brooklyn and heralded education, programs for the needy and women’s rights.

She was an icon for many.

“I distinctly remember in 1972, being in my aunt's bedroom, and she had a poster of Shirley Chisholm for president," recalled state Senator Sean Ryan. "It showed me, what does a leader look like? Well, a leader could be a man, could be a woman, could be an African American, could be a white person.”

She married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a Buffalonian. After her political career was over, they settled in Williamsville.

“About a decade ago, on the anniversary of her death, I came to the cemetery, expecting to find a headstone somewhere with some explanation,” said Ryan.

But "Unbought and Unbossed," a slogan from one of her Congressional runs, is the only embellishment you’ll find at her resting place at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

That’s why a statue is in the works, designed by artist Julia Bottoms.

“Shirley has a famous quote of basically if they don't invite you to sit at a chair at their table, to bring your own chair," explained Fitzgerald.

Putting up this statue is a way of trying to teach people about everyone who made a difference.

“We're now realizing that people are cut out of history," said Ryan. "We want to re-edit history, to give Shirley Chisholm her rightful place in that history.”

Because there’s no doubt Chisholm had a huge impact on women, of all colors, whether you realize it or not.

“I was just a child when she ran for president. She inspired me and gave me hope that sustained me that eventually the idea of a Black woman and as president would not be ridiculous," Fitzgerald read from a digital memorial post from November 2020. "Today, Kamala Harris is VP elect; I wish Shirley could see.”

WNY will try to keep that inspiration up for years to come.

The Shirley Chisholm statue is on track to be put up later in 2022.