Chisholm hailed as giant in U.S. history

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
NEW YORK - Shirley Chisholm, a former Brooklyn school teacher who won a groundbreaking election to Congress in 1968, was hailed Monday as a civil rights icon and dogged champion of women and blacks.
Two days after her death in retirement near Daytona Beach, at age 80, Chisholm was recalled with particular poignancy by black and female lawmakers, who said her contributions to American history were giant.
"I don't think there's anyone on the American scene today who played the role Shirley Chisholm played," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. "I don't think we'll be so lucky or so blessed to see her likeness again on the American political scene."
Lewis, himself a bedrock figure of the civil rights movement, predicted Chisholm's death would only raise awareness of her stature. He said he expected her picture to be placed on handheld fans in black churches in the South.
Chisholm died Saturday near Daytona Beach. She had a series of small strokes last summer and her health had deteriorated gradually since then, said Willie Kimmons, her godson.
She had moved to Florida's northeast coast about a dozen years ago because friends from New York lived there, and "the older she got, she hated the cold weather," Kimmons said.
Still, Chisholm remains identified with Brooklyn, where she was born in the predominantly black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and was a star debater with a riveting voice at Brooklyn College.
She was elected to the U.S. House in 1968 - the first black woman elected to Congress - and served until the early 1980s. A champion for child care, she served on the Education and Labor Committee and helped found the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.
The caucus' current chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Chisholm was a trailblazer who "exemplified servant leadership."
"Congresswoman Chisholm was a pioneer in public service who, through courage and wisdom, brought honesty and integrity to the legislative process," Cummings said.
Chisholm ran for president in 1972 - her slogan was "Unbought and Unbossed" - but lost the Democratic nomination to George McGovern, who later lost the presidency to incumbent Richard Nixon. Chisholm said later she mounted her campaign to bring about change.
Among the many admirers offering praise for Chisholm on Monday were women members of Congress, some of whom said they owed their careers to her and still considered her a role model.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Democrat who was the first black woman from Ohio to win a seat in Congress, said: "If there were no Shirley Chisholm there would be no Stephanie Tubbs Jones."
President Bush, speaking to newly elected members of Congress at a White House reception Monday afternoon, said he was saddened to learn of Chisholm's passing.
"She was a fine lady, a pioneer in education and public service and the first African-American woman elected to the Congress," the president said.
Funeral arrangements were still being worked out, but a service in Florida likely would be held on Saturday, he said.

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