LE 1360 12-5
The first African American congresswoman to be elected to the Texas Senate in 1966 was Barbara Jordan. Not only was she the first African American to be elected from the Deep South, but she was also the first southern female elected to the senate. Barbara was an educator and a lawyer while serving as a District 11 congresswoman from 1967 to 1973. After her service in the Texas Senate, Barbara went on to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving in office from January 1973 to 1979. Barbara is best known for her mesmerizing speech during the House of Judiciary Committee’s investigation considering the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Barbara Charline Jordan was born on February 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas. Her father, Benjamine Jordan, was a Baptist minister and her mother, Arlyne Jordan, was a domestic worker. While being raised in a time of segregation and Jim Crow Laws, Barbara lived in a house with her parents, two older sisters and both grandfathers. In her early life, Barbara was grounded by her grandfather who was an inspirational and empowering leader in her life. Taught by her grandfather, Barbara learned lifelong lessons like how to be self-sufficient, strong-willed, independent, and to never settle for mediocrity. Her grandfather also helped instill a business like mind in Barbara as well.
Encouraged by both parents, Barbara excelled academically in high school, where she quickly developed a passion for speaking in debates and orators. While attending Phillis Wheatley High School, Barbara embraced her education as well as her social life. Like a typical teen, she was involved in school clubs and other extracurricular activities. It was at a high school career day presentation that Barbara was moved by a speech in which she decided to become a lawyer. At the end of her high school years, Barbara earned a number of awards for her skill as a talented orator. In 1952, she won first place in the Texas State Ushers Oratorical Contest and proceeded to go on to win the national oration contest in Chicago.
After a victorious high school career, Barbara was accepted into Texas Southern University, where she continued her studies, excelling in the art of oration. She joined the Texas Southern debate team where the guidance of her debate coach, Tom Freeman, was a strong influence on the many tournaments that Barbara won. After graduating from Texas Southern University in 1956, Barbara was urged by Tom Freeman to attend Boston University Law School. Along with one other African American female, Barbara graduated from Boston University Law School in 1959.
Shortly after, Barbara gained a burning passion to start her own private law practice, in which she started out of her parent’s home in 1960. “Before long, Jordan became active in politics by campaigning for the Democratic presidential ticket of John F. Kennedy and fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1962, Jordan launched her first bid for public office, seeking a spot in the Texas legislature. It took two more tries for her to make history.” (State writers of, http://www.biography.com/people/barbara-jordan-9357991) The voter turnout was the largest turnout Harris County had ever seen. The Kennedy- Johnson’s victory of 1960 launched the beginning of Barbara Jordan’s political career.
After the great Kennedy turnout, Barbara was officially emerged in the political arena. Barbara finally had her seat in the Texas legislature as the first African American female. During her time in office Barbara had to earn the acceptance of her peers by showing off her intelligence and strength in oration. Barbara proved to fit in perfectly, and remained in the state senate for six years, until 1972. During her time in the state senate, Barbara worked on legislation dealing with the environment, establishing minimum wage standards, and eliminating discrimination in business contracts. Encouraged to run for a congressional seat, Barbara waged a campaign in 1971 for the U.S. Congress. After completing her term in office, Barbara was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Barbara acted briefly as the governor of Texas, while the governor and lieutenant were out of the state. Although she achieved so much, Barbara suffered the loss of her father on June 11, 1972 in Austin, Texas. His death caused Barbara to press on harder throughout her career.
Continuing on with her career, Barbara joined many committees like the Judiciary, and the Ways and Means committee. It was through the Judiciary committee that Barbara was involved in a major undertaking which would soon be recognized as one of her biggest career highlights.
“The 1974 Watergate scandal gave Jordan national prominence. Her speech in favor of President Richard Nixon’s impeachment was nothing short of oratorical brilliance. Her eloquence was considered memorable and thought-provoking.” (Unknown source: http://www.gale.cengage.com/free_resources/whm/bio/jordan_b.htm)
Barbara sustained her eloquence during the 1976 Democratic National Convention, where she introduced bills dealing with civil rights, crime, business, and free competition, as well as an unprecedented plan of payment for housewives for the labor and services they provide. She was the first African American to deliver the keynote address, and Barbara’s speech went on to rank as the fifth best, in “Top American Speeches of the 20th Century” list.
Throughout the peak of her career, Barbara was increasingly suffering from knee problems. While enduing physical pain, Barbara was offered a post position in cabinet by President Jimmy Carter. Barbara declined; rumor has it that she preferred the position of attorney general to Carter’s suggestion of the post of secretary of the department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Soon after, Barbara was offered a position at the University of Texas in Austin, to which she accepted.
While her educational work was the focus of her later years, Barbara never fully stepped away from public life. She served as a special counsel on ethics for Texas Governor Ann Richards in 1991. The following year, Barbara once again took the national stage to deliver a speech at the Democratic National Convention. Her health had declined by this point, and she had to give her address from her wheelchair. Still, Barbara spoke to rally her party with the same powerful and thoughtful style she had displayed 16 years earlier.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Barbara to head up the Commission on Immigration Reform. He also honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom that same year. She passed away two years later, on January 17, 1996, in Austin, Texas. Ms. Jordan died of pneumonia, a complication of her battle with leukemia. Though Barbara lived an inspiring and tremendous life, her personal love life was always kept secret. Her sexual orientation was never clear, though there were rumors that she was a lesbian, as she fought and stood for equal rights of marriage.
Barbara Jordan was an inspirational African American woman who proved ethnic stereotypes wrong. Although there were many setbacks due to her ethnicity, because of unequal rights she had to conquer during her time, she was determined to defeat the odds. Many doors were opened, not only for African Americans, but also for females in the United States, much in part to Barbara’s prominent role in her time. In the legacy of Barbara Jordan, individuals are able to observe that ethnicity, socioeconomically status, and societal barriers may be overcome and dispelled as roadblocks to success. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Jordan)
1. Women’s History: http://www.biography.com/people/barbara-jordan-9357991