“So we moved through our work, and even our social lives, carrying the mantle of being one of Chisholm’s staffers. And people knew that meant we really were very powerful by virtue of the confidence that she had, the way she relied on us, the trust she exhibited. So for me, it’s hard to separate any of the experience from the fact that working for Shirley Chisholm, having a position of trust with her senior staff—that was a really big deal. That’s what I remember. Most of the staffs had few women. I knew it, but I think at the time I was always feeling [that] most people on the Hill don’t enjoy the confidence and the trust and the capacity to make a difference that her staff did.”
— Muriel Morisey, April 19, 2017
During the 1970s, Muriel Morisey played an integral role in two congressional offices. In 1971, she began her career in Washington, DC, as a constituent case worker and press secretary for Walter Fauntroy, the first African-American Delegate from the District of Columbia. By 1975, she was senior legislative assistant for Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African-American Congresswoman. In this interview, she describes her work in the U.S. House of Representatives during this transformative decade in American political history.
Morisey highlights the way the growing number of women and African Americans in Congress began to shape political debates not only on the House Floor but behind the scenes in congressional offices. She reflects on Representative Chisholm’s political philosophy, her pragmatic approach to bipartisan legislation, and her willingness to delegate responsibility and empower the women on her staff. Morisey chronicles the emergence of new social and professional networks for African-American staff members and discusses the relationship between Fauntroy and Chisholm and their respective congressional districts. In addition, she recalls her work as a research assistant for the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. Throughout the interview, Morisey provides insight into the experience of women staff in the House and the political aspirations of the African-American community in the 1970s.
Muriel Morisey began her career on Capitol Hill in the office of District of Columbia Delegate Walter Fauntroy in 1971. During the next seven years, she worked on the impeachment investigation of President Richard M. Nixon, completed a law degree, and served as a close aide to Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. This was the first chapter of a long and distinguished career in which she excelled as a congressional staff member, lawyer, and academic.
Muriel C. Morisey was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1947. Her parents were both college graduates from families with deep roots in the South. Her mother, Juanita Pope Morisey, had a long career as an educator, and her father, A. A. Morisey, was a trailblazing African-American reporter who broke the color barrier at a previously segregated newspaper in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Before she was 10 years old, her family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, so that she could avoid the segregated schools of North Carolina. She went on to study history at Harvard University.
Morisey was briefly employed as a newspaper reporter before working on Maryland Congressman Parren Mitchell’s first House campaign in 1970. Soon after, she joined Fauntroy’s 1971 special election campaign to become the District’s first Delegate in nearly 100 years. This led to a full-time position in his congressional office, where her responsibilities included constituent case work, office management, and press secretary duties. She left the Hill in 1974 to enroll in law school at Georgetown University. During the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of President Nixon and the Watergate break-in, special counsel John Doar hired Morisey as a research assistant to organize and process confidential documents pertaining to the case.
In 1975, Representative Chisholm hired Morisey as senior legislative assistant in her Capitol Hill office. While still in law school, Morisey concentrated on speechwriting as well as research and legislation on education policy. A trusted member of Chisholm’s staff, she often worked directly with other congressional offices to develop legislation and express Chisholm’s legislative goals.
After law school, Morisey departed Capitol Hill for a legal career. At the Department of Justice, she worked as an attorney in the Office of Legislative Affairs, and later became legislative counsel in the Civil Rights Division. In 1983, the American Civil Liberties Union hired her as a policy advocate for civil rights issues in Congress. She moved on to Harvard University in 1985 to assist the university administration with higher education policy issues. In each position, her work frequently brought her back to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress and participate in hearings. In 1991, she joined the faculty of the James E. Beasley School of Law at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After 25 years of teaching, she retired in 2016.
Muriel Morisey describes the significance of her family history.
Muriel Morisey discusses the way women in her family shaped her career aspirations.
Staff and the Impeachment of President Nixon: Part One
Muriel Morisey explains the strict confidentiality of the Watergate investigation.
Staff and the Impeachment of President Nixon: Part Two
Muriel Morisey remembers her role during and after the Watergate investigation.
"She Empowered Her Staff Enormously"
Muriel Morisey recalls the relationship between Representative Shirley Chisholm and her staff.
Muriel Morisey remembers her role in Shirley Chisholm's office.
"Our Job Was Not Brookyln"
Muriel Morisey discusses the difference between Capitol Hill staff and district staff.
Working Across the Aisle
Muriel Morisey describes working with Republican staff members.
Representative Chisholm and the Women's Rights Movement
Muriel Morisey discusses Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm's involvement in women's rights organizations.
This portrait of Representative Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman in Congress, was created in 2008. She earned the nickname "Fighting Shirley" during her time in the House.
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