First major exhibit dedicated to Shirley Chisholm opening at Museum of the City of New York

June 5, 2024

Chisholm on the Congressional Rules Committee, A. Dev O’Neill and K. Jewell, 1970s, Reproduction, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York honors the life and legacy of pioneering politician and Brooklyn native Shirley Chisholm. Opening on June 14, “Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisholm at 100” is the first-ever major museum presentation dedicated to Chisholm; it coincides with the 100th anniversary of her birth. Located on the museum’s second-floor North Gallery, the exhibition explores the life of the late trailblazer, the first Black woman elected to Congress, through historical artifacts, photographs, art, and archival footage.

Chisholm at the Congressional Leadership Breakfast, Official White House Photographer, c. 1977–1978, Reproduction, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

The exhibition is supported by an Honorary Committee that includes Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, Gloria Steinem, and others.

Topics covered in the exhibition include the significance of Chisholm being the first Black woman sent to the state legislature, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and her trailblazing presidential campaign in 1972. Through this, visitors will understand how her legacy helped reshape American democracy for future generations of politicians and citizens alike.

Childhood images of Chisholm, Unidentified photographer, 1920s–1930s, Reproduction, Courtesy of Brooklyn College

Presented in collaboration with the Shirley Chisholm Project on Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College, the exhibition is divided into three sections: Brooklyn Life, Political Career, and Legacy.

Key highlights include rarely-shown 1970s paintings by Faith Ringgold, a costume worn by Regina King in the 2024 film “Shirley,” memorabilia from Chisholm’s inaugural presidential campaign, photos from Chisholm’s early years, and oral histories that offer personal insights into her legacy.

Poster, “Bring U.S. Together: Vote Chisholm ’72 Unbought and Unbossed”, N.G. Slater Corporation, 1972, Ink on paper, Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University
Flyer, “What the Unity Democratic Club Has Done” front, Unity Democratic Club, 1964, Reproduction, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library; Courtesy of the Estate of Thomas Russell Jones
Poster, “Outrageous!”, Ed Wong-Ligda, 1972, Ink on paper, Ed Wong-Ligda, Designer

“The inclusion of the Chisholm Project’s oral histories in the exhibition serves as poignant reminders of Chisholm’s contemporary relevance, underscoring not only her groundbreaking achievements but also the ongoing resonance of her legacy globally,” Dr. Zinga A. Fraser, co-curator of the exhibition and director of the Shirley Chisholm Project on Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College, said.

“Showcasing Chisholm as a figure whose influence transcends generations, ‘Changing the Face of Democracy’ hopes to inspire a new wave of political engagement, reaffirming the enduring relevance of her contributions.”

Shirley Chisholm, Democratic Convention, New York, Richard Sandler, 1980, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of Richard Sandler
Chisholm addresses the Democratic Convention while her supporters cheer, Jo Freeman, 1972, Reproduction, Courtesy of Jo Freeman

MCNY will offer free admission on June 18 for visitors of all ages to explore its exhibitions. The day will also include family-friendly programs connected to the Chisholm exhibition in English, Spanish, and Mandarin presented in partnership with Cool Culture.

The museum will also host panel discussions, film screenings, and other programs featuring leading scholars and culture workers to expand upon the stories featured in the exhibition. Events include a gathering during the week of the U.S. Election and a family-friendly program on Chisholm’s birthday, November 30.

Congresswomen look on as President Gerald Ford signs a proclamation declaring August 26 Women’s Equality Day, Unidentified photographer, August 22, 1974, Reproduction, Courtesy of the National Archives, 12082600
Shirley Chisholm and Coretta Scott King join Eleanor Holmes Norton as she is sworn in by Mayor Beame as the Commissioner of the City Commission on Human Rights, Dick De Marsico, March 8, 1974, Reproduction, Courtesy Municipal Archives, City of New York

During the exhibition, the museum’s Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center will organize field trips and professional development seminars to connect students and teachers with Chisholm’s experiences, values, and accomplishments.

Chisholm speaking at pro-abortion rally in Union Square, Bettye Lane, 1972, Reproduction, Bettye Lane Photos
Voter registration, Unidentified photographer, 1963, Reproduction, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

“Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisholm at 100” is co-curated by Zinga A. Fraser, PhD. and Sarah Seidman, PhD., and designed by We Should Do It All.

“Shirley Chisholm was a fierce defender of her borough, a captivating orator, shaper of policy, and powerful voice for New Yorkers,” Stephanie Hill Wilchfort, the Ronay Menschel director and president of MCNY, said.

“This exhibition and our related programming strive to connect New Yorkers to their political and social history, aiming to foster understanding of today’s electoral process and underscore the importance of civic engagement in our city.”

In recent years, New York City has celebrated Chisholm’s legacy through a Studio Gang-designed recreation center that will serve as a hub for learning, fitness, and recreation in East Flatbush and a planned monument at the southeast entrance to Prospect Park.

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