In a city filled with literally hundreds of statues of Presidents, Congresspeople, historical figures and politicians, there is only one full-length statue of a Black woman: Rosa Parks. But now, Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of New York is pushing for another Black woman to be memorialized with a piece of artwork in the nation’s capital. She wants the city — and the country — to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.
According to Chris Cioffi of Roll Call, Clarke has repeatedly argued that boosting representation within Washington D.C., even if it’s just within the artwork the city has to offer, is an “immediate need.”
“[Chisholm] showed millions of Black children what was possible,” Clarke said. “She showed me what was possible. For this and countless other reasons, Congress should honor Chisholm’s life and living legacy.”
Following her statement, Clarke introduced a bill within the House that would instruct the Joint Committee on the Library to commission a statue of Chisholm for placement within the Capitol.
“The New York Democrat has been down this road before,” Cioffi reported. “She worked with then-Sen. Kamala Harris during the last Congress on a similar push, but the legislation never made it to the floor.”
However, now with both chambers of Congress controlled by Democrats — and following the last year of protests for social justice and the renewed interest in representation that it has generated — Clarke believes “the time is right to celebrate the woman who earned the nickname ‘Fighting Shirley.’”
“Honoring Shirley Chisholm with a statue in the halls of the Capitol does more than memorializ[ing] her life,” Clarke said. “It proves to the millions of Black girls and women in this country that if they achieve, if they strive for greatness, if they better their country and this world, they too may be honored eternally in the United States Capitol.”
Following Clarke’s introduction of the bill in the House, Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Should the measures be approved, it would be another significant honoring of Chisholm’s legacy. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Cioffi reported that “Chisholm was elected to the House in 1968 to represent New York’s 12th District, which then encompassed some of the same areas that Clarke represents today. She co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and in 1972 became the first Black woman and the first Caribbean American woman to seek the nomination for president from a major political party.”
“She died on New Year’s Day of 2005 and was laid to rest in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery,” Cioffi added. Her vault is inscribed with the words she lived by and served as her motto: “unbought and unbossed.”
Last month, Oscar and Emmy winner, Regina King announced plans to produce and star in a movie celebrating Chisholm’s life and achievements. The film is currently in pre-production.