Shirley Chisholm monument comes to Brooklyn as first permanent public artwork to honor a woman

Mildred Europa Taylor July 25, 2023
Shirley Chisholm thanking delegates, Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Fla., 3rd session (Photo: Library of Congress)

After four years of delay, the Public Design Commission has approved a statue to honor Rep. Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn. The 32-foot-tall steel sculpture by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous will be found in a plaza in Prospect Park.

The statue, which is eight feet smaller than the original proposed by the artists behind it, will be the borough’s first permanent public artwork to honor a woman.

New York City officials announced in 2018 plans to honor Chisholm as part of the She Built NYC program, which aims to build more monuments honoring women in New York City. Many artists sent proposals but the city chose the design by Williams and Jeyifous. “Our project celebrates Shirley Chisholm’s legacy as a civil servant who ‘left the door open’ to make room for others to follow in her path toward equity and a place in our country’s political landscape,” the artists said in a statement in 2019 after they were selected. They said they had designed a monument in which Chisholm’s iconic visage can be immediately recognizable while also equally portraying the power, beauty and dimensionality of her contributions to democracy.

The statue was expected to be completed by the end of 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic and a new mayoral administration delayed it, reports said. Williams and Jeyifous reduced the size of the sculpture by eight feet in order to gain the approval of city officials and meet building codes, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

“Depending upon your vantage point and approach to the Ocean Avenue entrance of Prospect Park, you can see Ms Chisholm’s silhouette inextricably intertwined with the iconic dome of the U.S. Capitol building. The composite profile symbolizes how she disrupted the perception of who has the right to occupy such institutions and to be an embodiment for democracy,” the artists wrote in their proposal brief.

Pioneering African-American politician Chisholm is well known for becoming the first black congresswoman in 1968, representing New York State in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven terms. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, to Guyanese and Barbadian parents, Chisholm also run for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency, making her the first African American to seek a presidential nomination from a major political party.

The political icon, throughout her career in politics, fought for social justice and education opportunities and although she did not emerge victorious in the presidential nomination race, she will be remembered for her perseverance in the wake of the attacks she received from a society that did not wholly enfranchise women and people of color.

Before her death in 2005, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and in November 2015, she was posthumously awarded the distinguished Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

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