November 23, 2015

Congresswoman Lee's Statement on Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm Being Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Oakland, CA – Congresswoman Barbara Lee released this statement as Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

“Throughout her life, Congresswoman Chisholm – or Mrs. C as we called her – broke many barriers while tirelessly advocating for the most vulnerable in our nation and our world. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a fitting tribute to her lifetime of work and advocacy.

In 1969, Congresswoman Chisholm became the first African American woman to serve in Congress. She was the first major-party African American candidate and first Democratic woman candidate for the U.S. presidency.

I had the privilege of first meeting Mrs. C when I invited her to speak at Mills College as president of the black student union.  Following her powerful remarks, I spoke with her about my government class. The professor required that students volunteer with one of the Presidential campaigns but none of the candidates spoke to the issues important to me and my community so I was on the verge of failing.

After first taking me to task for not being a registered voter, Mrs. C. suggested that I work for her historic presidential campaign. I helped organize her northern California campaign and traveled to Miami as a delegate for Congresswoman Chisholm.

Since our first meeting, Mrs. C had been a friend and mentor to me throughout my life, including encouraging me to run for office. In fact, at my victory gala following my election to the California State Senate, Mrs. C. announced to everyone that she knew that I’d one day be a Member of Congress.

While Mrs. C passed away ten years ago, her words and legacy live on while challenging all policymakers to do more for our nation’s most vulnerable.

As we celebrate Congresswoman Chisholm’s remarkable life with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I encourage all to heed her words of wisdom: ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.’”



Congresswoman Lee is a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the Steering and Policy Committee, is a Senior Democratic Whip, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. She serves as chair of the Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.