Shirley Chisholm, pioneering politician, paved way for Black women

On January 20, Bay Area native Kamala Harris forever etched her name in history, becoming the frist woman, first Black and first South-Asian American sworn in as vice president of the United States. 

East Bay congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) sat in the small crowd in Washington D.C., a witness to history. "My friend, daughter of Oakland, raised in Berkeley, is now the vice president," said Rep. Lee. "So the East Bay is in the house, as in the White House."

The moment was particularly poignant for Congresswoman Lee. Her mentor, Shirley Chisholm, was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black woman to compete for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  Lee wore Chisholm's pearls to the inauguration. 

"Shirley Chisholm’s god-daughter, she said 'Barbara, Shirley Chisholm would want you to wear her pearls," recalled Lee.  "Because of Shirley Chisholm, I am. And because of Shirley Chisholm, Kamala Harris is."

On January 16, four days before the inauguration, Harris tweeted: 

In fact, when Chisholm and Harris both ran for president, their slogans were the same: "for the people." In her first address as vice president, Harris again paid homage to the trailblazers who paved the way.  "It is my honor to be here," said Harris. "To stand on the shoulders of those who came before, to speak tonight as your vice president."

Congresswoman Lee said she watched as Chisholm represented New York's 12th congressional district and endured sexism and racism. In Chisholm's autobiography, "The Good Fight," she wrote this: 

"The next time a woman runs, or a Black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’ to elect to its highest office, I believe he or she will be taken seriously from the start. The door is not open yet, but it is ajar."

"Given all our problems in this country, given what we have to deal with, in terms of the many challenges, progress has been made," said Lee.