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Postal Service unveils stamp honoring Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm, known by her campaign slogan “Unbought & Unbossed,” was a trailblazer – the first African-American woman to serve in Congress, and the first to seek a major party’s nomination for president.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a commemorative stamp honoring the seven-time congresswoman, who made Williamsville one of her homes for several years beginning in 1984 with second husband and former Assemblyman Arthur Hardwick Jr. The ceremony was held inside Forest Lawn’s Birchwood Mausoleum, where the couple is entombed.

“It isn’t easy to be first, but Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm wasn’t afraid to take on a good challenge,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said. “Her trailblazing spirit opened doors for today’s leaders, and her commitment to education, families and bipartisan cooperation is a lesson that transcends generations.”

Chisholm becomes the 37th person put on the limited-edition Black Heritage Stamp released annually during Black History Month, joining such luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson and Thurgood Marshall. The stamp features a color portrait of Chisholm by artist Robert Shetterly.

Chisholm, the child of Caribbean immigrants, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1968. She sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1972, receiving 152 delegate votes at the convention that nominated Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D.

Thomas Sklarz, officer in charge of the Buffalo Post Office, read aloud something Chisholm wrote after her unsuccessful bid: “The next time a woman runs, or a black, or a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’ to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start ... I ran because somebody had to do it first.”

Sklarz added, “Ms. Chisholm was willing to become a pioneer because she understood the power of symbols. That’s why it’s so fitting to honor her with this stamp.”

Chisholm died on New Year’s Day 2005 at age 80, in Ormond, Fla.

Frank Mesiah, who heads the Buffalo branch of the NAACP, said his daughter worked on Chisholm’s presidential campaign. He recalled meetings with the Secret Service at his house to plan the candidate’s local campaign stops.

“We take Hillary [Clinton] running for granted. So she happens to be a woman, so what?” Mesiah said. “But at the time Shirley Chisholm ran, it was unheard of. She was not supposed to be doing that.”