“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
These powerful words came from former Brooklyn U.S. Rep. Shirley Anita Chisholm — and thanks to SheBuiltNYC, Chisholm’s presence is expected to forever stand at the entrance of Prospect Park.
In June, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and First Lady Chirlane McCray announced a campaign to construct more monuments of historical women figures across the city. Currently, there are over 90 statutes across the five boroughs and only five are of women. All five are located in Manhattan, and the group of statues includes only one woman of color, Harriet Tubman. This will be the first statue of a woman of color in Brooklyn.
New Yorkers across the city sent SheBuiltNYC more than 2,000 submissions of women, groups of women and events in women’s history they believed should be memorialized. The committee narrowed the submissions down to 17 nominations. On Friday, McCray announced that Chisholm was the inaugural selection.
“The trailblazer in American politics … one of Brooklyn’s favorite daughters, who carved the path for herself and specially women of color,” said McCray of her “Bajan sister” Chisholm.
Friday also marked Chisholm’s 94th birthday. She died at age 80 in 2005.
In January, over 120 women will represent districts in the House of Representatives. This is “more women than ever,” McCray pointed out. “And thanks to Shirley, they won’t need a folding chair.”
Chisholm was a first generation born-American whose mother immigrated from Barbados, West Indies. She grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where she graduated from Girls High School later renamed Boys and Girls High School — and went on to earn a sociology degree from CUNY’s Brooklyn College.
“There were first talks that the statute would be in Manhattan, but we said ‘No! Shirley is Brooklyn!’” said an enthusiastic Councilmember Laurie A. Cumbo at the press conference.
Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Albany. She was the first woman elected to Congress, where she represented the 12th Congressional District, which covered Lower Manhattan and sections of Brooklyn and Queens. In 1972, she became the first woman to run for president in the Democratic party and the first black woman to run in either party.
“There are few New Yorkers more deserving of a monument than the great Shirley Chisholm, and there is no place better to erect it than the entrance to Prospect Park, right in the heart of the Congressional District she represented and championed,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “This honor is overdue, as are similar honors for so many of our city’s outstanding women, people of color immigrants, and members of our LGBTQ+ community.”
Chisholm’s legacy included financial aid programs for CUNY students, founding Martin Luther King Jr. Day, daycare funding, helping create Title IV and aiding the beginnings of the Congressional Black Caucus, McCray said.
The monument is expected to stand at the entrance to Prospect Park on Ocean and Parkside avenues, which will also undergo a $6.7 million restoration. The sculpture’s artist-to-be will be announced 2019, — “Hopefully a woman,” Deputy Mayor Glen said.
Among those who spoke their praises of the selection were political strategist Donna Brazile, former U.S. Rep. Ed Towns, state Sen. Kevin Parker, former U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, Councilmember Mathieu Eugene and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte.