An announcement has been made that a statue in the honor of Shirley Chisholm will “come to life” in the year 2022. Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to Congress, where she served seven terms. In 1972, she was the first woman – and the first Black candidate – to seek a major party’s nomination for the presidential office. Ultimately, she became the Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus in 1977, which was considered a monumental achievement.
Chisholm is also relatively unheralded for her vast accomplishments, which is why a statue will finally be created in her honor. The statue will ultimately be placed at Forest Lawn, where she is entombed in the Birchwood Mausoleum.
Earlier today, New York State Senator Sean Ryan joined representatives from Forest Lawn Cemetery and Steering Committee members to announce that a Request For Proposals (RFP) has been issued, in search of a sculptor to capture the likeness of Chisholm, who was known as “a soft spoken person, with a real sense of humor.” She was also known for her vast “many firsts” that continue to ripple forth and inspire people to this day. Chisholm opened the door for so many other black people to follow, but she also inspired a nation as a whole. Now, it’s time to pay tribute to this relentless change agent.
While in Congress, she fought for programs like Head Start, school lunches, and food stamps. Notably, Chisholm was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
As a change agent, she championed women, minorities, and the poor. She also pushed hard for education and wage reform.
The RFP was created in conjunction with the steering committee that is guiding the creation of the statue. Steering Committee members include:
April Baskin – Erie County Legislature Chair
Ruth G. Bryant – Chair of the Communities of Giving Legacy Initiative at the Community Foundation For Greater Buffalo
Dr. Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute and Former President of the Buffalo School Board
Melissa Brown – Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum
Joseph Dispenza – President of Forest Lawn Cemetery
Zainab Saleh – Program Coordinator for Partnership for the Public Good
Senator Sean Ryan said, “Shirley Chisholm was a force for positive change throughout her entire life. As she progressed through her political career, she broke barrier after barrier – all the while standing up for historically underrepresented groups. As we approach the 50-year anniversary of her unprecedented presidential campaign, I hope that this statue serves not only as a monument to this important figure in our nation’s history, but also as an educational opportunity for the generations who may not know her story.”
Chisholm touted herself as ‘the people’s politician.’
Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin said, “Shirley Chisholm was ahead of her time in her political philosophy and persevered through the seemingly insurmountable challenges of being the first Black female elected to Congress and first Presidential candidate. In her persistence to represent Americans, she laid the foundation for Black female elected officials like myself to succeed. I am incredibly honored we have the privilege to mold her symbolism into a statue, right here in Buffalo where she made her home. And I am enthusiastically excited to see what our immensely talented local artists propose to connect our past to the present and inspire the future Shirley Chisholms of our nation.”
Chisholm said she wanted to be remembered as a ‘catalyst for change’ and ‘a Black woman who dared to be herself.’
Dr. Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute and Former President of the Buffalo School Board, said, “The Honorable Shirley Chisholm was one of the most consequential African American political leaders of our time. Her historic run for President was only one of her many firsts. Ms. Chisholm was a trailblazer who paved the way for all women, particularly those of color in a male-dominated field. I want to thank Senator Ryan for his foresight and commitment to – and support of – this project, and my fellow committee members for their ongoing dedication to ensure that the final monument is a symbol of the spirit embodied by Ms. Chisholm and the many lessons that are inspired by her legacy.”
After her retirement from Congress in 1983, Chisholm lived for several years in Williamsville, New York and taught at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
Joseph Dispenza, President of Forest Lawn Cemetery, said, “This artwork will stand as a well-deserved local honor and recognition of Congresswoman Chisholm’s spirit, bravery and commitment to doing what is right, when you can, regardless of the political or social mores of the time. Her campaign slogan, ‘Unbought & Unbossed’, which also serves as her epitaph on her crypt here at Forest Lawn, sums up her commitment to these ideals and provides a clear direction for all of us personally and professionally.”
Zainab Saleh, Program Coordinator for Partnership for the Public Good, said, “This project provides a unique opportunity for an artist or collaboration among artists, especially artists of color, to capture Shirley Chisholm’s dynamism and fearlessness in the face of the status quo. I look forward to working with artists to honor a leader who worked tirelessly throughout her career, using her office to enact real change in order to impact real lives.”
Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005. Inscribed on her crypt is her presidential campaign slogan, ‘Unbought and unbossed.’
The statue is anticipated to be erected in the fall of 2022. Artists interested in designing the statue are invited to submit proposals until December 1, 2021.
Any artist or artist teams working in New York State will be considered. The steering committee strongly encourages artists of color and those based in Western New York to submit proposals. Initial proposals for the project must be submitted to Zainab Saleh at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 1, 2021. To receive feedback on applications in progress, drafts should be emailed prior to November 15, 2021. A committee representing community stakeholders will review all submissions for the competition before two finalists are selected. A virtual information session will be held at 12:30 p.m. on October 20 to go over all requirements in detail and answer any questions interested artists may have. The full RFP, including details about the information session, can be found here.
Lead image: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy for presidential nomination. Film negative by photographer Thomas J. O’Halloran, 1972. From the U.S. News & World Report Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. – Wikimedia Commons