By Jericho Tran
Published: November 24th, 2015
Brooklyn College alumna Shirley Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama today for her historic political career and activism for African-Americans and women.
“The torch she lit for economic and social justice continues to shine,” said CLAS Assembly Speaker Jake Levin. “There is still a very long way to go for racial-, gender-, and class-based equality in our political system, but we would be a number of very large steps behind without Shirley Chisholm.”
Chisholm, of the class of 1946, was one of 17 recipients this year for the country’s highest civilian honor, including Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, and Lee Hamilton.
Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968, and became the first African-American woman to run for a major political party’s presidential nomination, when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. The seven-term Congresswoman was also one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.
“We’re happy that President Obama and the White House have acknowledged her,” Zinga Fraser said at an annual event last week to celebrate Chisholm’s life. Fraser is the director of a women’s grassroots social activism group inspired by the former Congresswoman.
At the event last week, Shirley Chisholm Day, however, some students voiced their concerns about Chisholm’s legacy at the college.
“I feel like Brooklyn College administration really tries to milk the fact that Shirley Chisholm went here, but it’s very likely if Shirley Chisholm was here employing the political vision that she had, she wouldn’t be very liked by administration,” said a sociology major named Thomas. “I feel like it’s just such a phony affiliation.”
Jenna Carter-Johnson, a sociology major, argued that students, not the college, can embody Chisholm’s legacy.
“With the recent protesting in regards to higher education and how much it costs, there are steps we can take to embody what Shirley Chisholm stands for,” Carter-Johnson said.
During her time at Brooklyn College, Chisholm helped create the SEEK program.
She also helped found the National Organization of Women, and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women.
Chisholm passed away in 2005 at the age of 80.