March 24, 2023
In Powerful Speech, Pressley Hails Shirley Chisholm’s Legislative Prowess, Leadership on Equal Rights Amendment
“Let the record reflect that Shirley Chisholm was an effective legislator in her own right.”
“And Shirley Chisholm was a forceful champion for the Equal Rights Amendment – a cause I am honored to lead, in partnership with my colleagues and movement allies – in the House today.”
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, during Women’s History Month, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) delivered a powerful House floor speech honoring the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and her contributions as a legislator, including her advocacy to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
Earlier this year, Rep. Pressley and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) led their colleagues in unveiling a bicameral, joint resolution to affirm the ratification of the ERA and take a critical step toward enshrining gender equality in the United States Constitution. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a historic hearing on the Pressley-Cardin bill, the first of its kind in over 40 years.
A video of her floor speech can be found here, and a full transcript is available below.
Transcript: Rep. Pressley Hails Shirley Chisholm’s Legislative Prowess, Leadership on Equal Rights Amendment
March 23, 2023
U.S. House Floor
Mr. Speaker, neither my mother Sandy or my father Martin raised me to ask permission to lead.
I do believe that a parent is a child’s first and best teacher.
And instead of traditional bedtime stories of princes and knights in shining armor, my mother read me the powerful speeches of Black Congresswomen like Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm.
Since my formative years, I have felt this soul-tie to Shirley Chisholm, long before my work led me to this chamber.
In fact, my first office here as a freshman in the 116th Congress was formerly Shirley Chisholm’s office.
Not only was Shirley, and I don’t say that to be any way disrespectful by not referring to her as a Congresswoman, but she is in fact so iconic that you can just say her first name, and it is clear who you are talking about.
Not only was Shirley a “first” as the first Black woman elected to the House of Representatives, she was disruptive, she was brave, she was a trailblazer in fighting injustice, she was an inspiration.
Very often, iconic leaders can be singularly defined by one great speech and some powerful quotes. I think it is tempting to do that with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, but it would be a disservice to do so.
While certainly she was the first Black woman elected to Congress, the first Black woman to pursue the U.S. presidency, let the record reflect that Shirley Chisholm was an effective legislator in her own right.
Serving here for seven terms, the daughter of immigrants from Barbados and Guyana, she has blazed the trail for every Black woman in this body, including myself today, as the first person of color and the first Black woman to ever represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the US House of Representatives.
Everyone, including Vice President Kamala Harris, owes her a debt of gratitude. But her contributions go well beyond that.
During her time in these sacred halls of power, Shirley played a critical role in advancing policies that support our most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
As a member of the Agricultural Committee, Shirley was pivotal in enacting the SNAP program, which helps feed over 42 million people each year.
She was also one of 13 founding members, in 1971, of the Congressional Black Caucus, which today boasts its largest membership in history. And she was also a founding member of the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Everyone wants to be a part of something when it’s already established. But it takes a certain kind of grit, vision and determination to be the founder of something.
Shirley was both a visionary and a doer, and tenacious in the actualization of these caucuses, which live on today.
And Shirley Chisholm was a forceful champion for the Equal Rights Amendment — a cause I’m honored to lead in partnership with my colleagues and movement allies — in the House today.
In her words, in the words of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, spoken right here in the People’s House.
She said, the ERA “provides a legal basis for attack on the most subtle, most pervasive and most institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women, solely on the basis of their sex is so widespread that it seems to many persons normal, natural and right.”
Mr. Speaker, Black women like Shirley Chisholm have done the work of preserving and defending our democracy for centuries. But far too often, our contributions are ignored, erased, or rendered a footnote in history.
And it’s not lost on me that the first time the ERA was put forward, women of color were not even a part of the conversation.
Today, there will be no erasure. We stand on the shoulders of folks like Shirley Chisholm, leading a multiracial, intergenerational coalition to advance this priority.
Mr. Speaker, when asked how she wanted to be remembered, Shirley Chisholm said that she wanted to be remembered as a Black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself, a catalyst for change.
Today, during Women’s History Month and every month, we honor women like Shirley. We follow in their footsteps. And we continue running, winning, leading, legislating and taking up all the space with our full authentic selves, just as Shirley taught us.
May she rest in peace and power. Happy Women’s History Month.
Thank you. I yield.