Kadir Nelson, Shirley Anita Chisholm (2009), Congress's official portrait of the first African-American woman to serve in Congress. Collection of the US House of Representatives.
As part of New York City’s efforts to rectify the vast gender imbalance among its statues, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen announced on Friday that the first monument commissioned under the new She Built NYC initiative will honor US Representative Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to congress. The statue will stand at the entrance to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
“Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s legacy of leadership and activism has paved the way for thousands of women to seek public office,” said McCray in a statement. “She is exactly the kind of New York woman whose contributions should be honored with representation in our public spaces.”
The announcement came in time to commemorate late congresswoman’s 94th birthday and the 50th anniversary of her election to the House of Representatives, in November 1968. The New York City native was also the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, in 1972. (On Friday, Amazon Studios announced that Academy Award winner Viola Davis will play the title role in the upcoming film The Fighting Shirley Chisholm.)
In August, the city launched She Built NYC, led by the Department of Cultural Affairs, with an open call, inviting the public to suggest candidates for a new monument honoring a New York woman, women’s organization, or milestone from women’s history. There were nearly 2,000 nominations. The submissions—many of which named Chisholm—were reviewed by an advisory committee that then made a list of recommendations to the city.
Currently, only five of the city’s public statues of women represent historical personages, rather than allegorical figures or fictional characters—such as the Statue of Liberty, or Central Park’s Alice in Wonderland statue. (In comparison, there are nearly 150 statues of real-life men.) In addition to the planned Chisholm statue, the New York City Parks Department is erecting a monument to suffragette leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
“Monuments in New York City’s public spaces do not reflect the full breadth of our rich history and diverse population, and that’s something we’re committed to changing,” said Cultural Affairs commissioner Tom Finkelpearl in a statement. “In recognizing Shirley Chisholm—an inspiring leader, true trailblazer, and consummate Brooklynite—this new artwork will be an important step toward fulfilling Mayor de Blasio’s call for greater representation in our public realm.”
An artist for the monument will be announced in early 2019. The work is expected to be installed by the end of 2020.