What Happened to Shirley Chisholm’s Mom and Sister?

In Netflix’s biographical drama film ‘Shirley,’ Shirley Chisholm (Regina King) has a tumultuous relationship with her sister Muriel St. Hill and mother Ruby St. Hill. While Brooklyn celebrates Shirley’s election to the United States Congress as the first black woman ever to achieve the feat, Ruby and Muriel keep a distance from her and her victory. When the representative meets Muriel after deciding to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, the meeting doesn’t materialize as hoped. In reality, Muriel was one of Shirley’s three sisters. The family, headed by Ruby and Shirley’s father Charles Christopher St. Hill, seemingly didn’t encourage Shirley enough while she was rewriting history!

Ruby Died at the Age of 89

Ruby emigrated to the United States from Barbados in the early 1920s. She worked as a seamstress and domestic worker, whereas her husband Charles St. Hill was a factory worker and baker’s helper. Ruby and Charles had four daughters and Shirley was the eldest. “Mother was still only a girl herself and had trouble coping with three babies, especially her oldest,” the politician wrote in her memoir ‘Unbought and Unbossed.’ According to Muriel, Ruby wanted to buy a home and all of her children to receive a college education. She belonged to an English Brethren church and was very religious.

“[Ruby was] thoroughly British in her ideas, her manners[,] and her plans for her daughters,” Shirley said about her mother once, as per Anastasia C. Curwood’s biography ‘Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics.’ However, she didn’t approve of Shirley’s growing interest and significance in the realm of politics. “She [Shirley] remembered her mother as ‘an austere individual’ whose piety and religious orientation were more pronounced than her engagement with ‘things of the world’ such as civic activism,” wrote Curwood.

Shirley was critical of Ruby and her sisters’ approach towards her and her career as a politician. “[They] never supported me in the political arena. I couldn’t even get them to go out and get a page of signatures for me. They said, no. No woman had any right to be in politics… This is the most fascinating thing about my life. I had absolutely no support from my family for politics. None,” Shirley said in a 2000 interview, as per Curwood’s book. Ruby died on June 19, 1991, in St. Mary’s Hospital, Brooklyn, at the age of 89. She lived at 1094 Prospect Place, Brooklyn, at the time. The family hadn’t publicized the cause of death. According to Curwood, Shirley lost her mother after “decades of not speaking.”

Muriel Died in 2019

Muriel was the second youngest sister of Shirley. Ruby and her husband Charles led their four daughters to New York City to provide them with a home and superior education. Like her sister, Muriel also graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College. While growing up, Shirley took care of Muriel. She was “very proud” and “happy” about her sister’s election to the Congress. Muriel returned to Barbados, the home country of her mother and where her father grew up, in 1971 and lived in Silver Sands in the parish of Christ Church. Shirley remained in touch with her as the “only one of her three sisters with whom she was on speaking terms,” as per the biography.

Image Credit: Sherwood McCaskie/YouTube

Muriel even offered her advice when Bill Clinton nominated her to be named as the ambassador to Jamaica in 1993. “Her [Shirley’s] sister Muriel Forde counseled against taking the position, arguing it had large risks and few rewards,” reads ‘Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics.’ When Shirley died in January 2005 in Florida, Muriel was present at the funeral. “Muriel Forde was there, too, accepting the flag that had draped her sister’s casket after a congressional honor guard had brought it out of the church and a twenty-one-gun salute was given,” added Curwood.

Muriel died on April 9, 2019, at the age of 91. Her family hasn’t publicized the cause of death. She was predeceased by her parents, all three sisters, and her husband Hugh Forde.

Read More: Why Did Shirley and Conrad Chisholm Divorce?