Today, January 10, 2022, New York State Senator Sean Ryan announced that local artist Julia Bottoms has been selected to design a statue honoring the late Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm, who is entombed in Forest Lawn’s Cemetery’s Birchwood Mausoleum, made history as the first Black woman to serve in the United States Congress and the first to run for president. The statue will be installed near the mausoleum this fall.

Bottoms’ concept is designed to evoke emotion and inspire reflection through a series of elements that reference Chisholm’s life and legacy. It features Chisholm standing before a podium adorned with the 1972 Democratic National Convention’s seal, with her hand raised high in the air displaying a peace sign. On the side of the podium is a plaque featuring Chisholm’s famous quote: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Propped against the side of the podium is a folding chair, providing a symbolic reference to the quote.

The steering committee guiding the creation of the statue announced a call for proposals for the sculpture in October 2021. The committee selected Bottoms’ design concept after reviewing submissions from a diverse pool of artists. In the next phase of the design process, Bottoms will present a 3D rendering of her concept to the steering committee.

A Buffalo native, Bottoms studied at the University at Buffalo, earning a bachelor’s degree in Art and a master’s degree in Multidisciplinary Fine Arts Studies. She currently serves as an artist-in-residence at Albright-Knox Northland.

This public initiative will demonstrate Shirley Chisholm’s incredible legacy to the entire Western New York community and beyond. The statue will help to convey who Ms. Chisholm was and what she meant; both to Buffalo and to the entire country. The statue will capture her legacy, her impact on our community, and her demonstration that women – particularly Black women – are capable of anything; even (and especially) if it has never been done before.

Steering Committee members for the project include:

  • April Baskin – Erie County Legislature Chair
  • Ruth D. Bryant – Chair of the Communities of Giving Legacy Initiative at the Community Foundation For Greater Buffalo
  • Dr. Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute and Former President of the Buffalo School Board
  • Melissa Brown – Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum
  • Joseph Dispenza – President of Forest Lawn Cemetery
  • Zainab Saleh – Program Coordinator for Partnership for the Public Good

Artist’s Description of Design Elements

The Podium: Chisholm stands behind a podium adorned with the 1972 Democratic National Convention’s seal on the front. It was in 1972 that Chisholm made history as the first African American to seek party nomination for President and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination. The podium symbolizes her powerful abilities as a charismatic orator.

The Plaque: On the side of the podium is an engraved plaque featuring one of Chisholm’s most powerful quotes: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

The Chair: A folding chair is propped against the side of the podium. The chair serves as a symbolic reference to the famous quote and a reminder of the power of creating a space – not only for yourself, but for those that come after you.

The Attire: Chisholm’s wardrobe was as bold and unique as her message. Her love of strong patterns and personal flair kept audiences as captivated by her look as they were by her words. Her posture in the sketch is one she often assumed during her campaign: relaxed, but confident and holding up the peace sign. Chisholm’s body language truly reinforced the statement made by her historic run: “I am the candidate of the people of America, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”