Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first woman from the Caribbean to run for the White House, in 1972, having been elected to Congress in 1968. Although born in the US of a Barbadian mother, she
Her father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana before moving to Barbados. He arrived in New York City via Antilla, Cuba in 1923. Her mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Christ Church, Barbados, and arrived in New York City in 1921.
Chisholm’s father was a laborer who sometimes worked in a factory that made burlap bags, but when he could not find factory employment instead worked as a baker’s helper.
Her mother was a skilled seamstress and domestic worker. Her mother had trouble working and raising the children at the same time.
As a consequence, in November 1929 when St. Hill turned five, she and her two sisters were sent to Barbados on the S.S. Vulcana to live with their maternal grandmother, Emaline Seale.
Regarding the role of her grandmother, she later said, “Granny gave me strength, dignity, and love. I learned from an early age that I was somebody. I didn’t need the black revolution to tell me that.”
Shirley and her sisters lived on their grandmother’s farm in the Vauxhall village in Christ Church, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse.
As a result of her time in Barbados, St. Hill spoke with a recognizable West Indian accent throughout her life.
In her 1970 autobiography Unbought and Unbossed, she wrote: “Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason.”
As a result of her time on the island, and regardless of her U.S. birth, St. Hill would always consider herself a Barbadian American.
Chisholm died on January 1, 2005, in Florida near Daytona Beach, after suffering several strokes. She is buried in the Oakwood Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, where the legend inscribed on her vault reads: “Unbought and Unbossed”.
Chisholm has been a major influence on other women of color in politics, among them California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who stated in a 2017 interview that Chisholm had a profound impact on her career.
Jamaican-American Kamala Harris recognized Chisholm’s presidential campaign by using a similar color scheme and typography in her own 2020 presidential campaign‘s promotional materials and logo. That red-and-yellow design could be seen in a video announcing Harris’s run for president.
Harris launched her own presidential campaign forty-seven years to the day after Chisholm’s presidential campaign.