By Angela L. Braden
Strong, determined, principled, bold, brave, intelligent, incredible, daring, eloquent…
Those are only a few of the words that can adequately describe Ms. Barbara Jordan.
Barbara Charline Jordan was born February 21, 1936, in Houston’s historical Fifth Ward. She graduated with honors from Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1952. She continued to excel academically as a student at Texas Southern University, where she earned the distinction of being considered a champion debater on the university’s prestigious debate team. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Texas Southern University in 1956, she enrolled in Boston University’s law school, where she furthered acquired the skill and knowledge to be one of the nation’s finest attorneys.
After graduating from Boston University, Ms. Jordan joined the faculty at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she taught Political Science for one year. She then moved back to Houston, where she started a private law practice in 1960.
In 1962 and 1964, Ms. Jordan ran for a seat in the Texas House of Representative, but lost both times. Being the determined woman she was, she ran again in 1966. She won, making history as the first African American since 1883, as well as the first African American woman to ever have serve in that body.
Her record in the Texas State Senate is viewed as somewhat of a phenomenon. On March 21, 1967 she became the first Black elected official to preside over that body. She was the first Black state senator to chair a major committee. And the first freshman senator ever named to the Texas Legislative Council.
Ms. Jordan continued to make history in Texas, as well as the United States, when she was elected the first African American pro tem of the Texas House of Representative. While serving as the pro tem, she was given the responsibility of being the acting governor of Texas for a day.
In 1972, Ms. Jordan was elected to the United States House of Representatives, becoming the first African American woman from a southern state to ever serve in the House. In 1974, Congresswoman Jordan bravely made a historical and quite influential speech before the House Judiciary Committee, supporting the impeachment of President Nixon.
In 1976, the congresswoman from Houston continued to make history. She became the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address at the National Democratic Convention. Many historians deem Barbara Jordan’s speech to be the best keynote address at the national convention until 2004, when the junior senator, Barack Obama, delivered the keynote address. Ms. Jordan was given the rare opportunity to deliver the keynote address again in 1992.
In 1979, the congresswoman retired from politics and became an instructor of Ethics at University of Texas’ Lynden B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. In addition, Ms. Jordan served as an advisor to Governor Ann Richards and President Bill Clinton.
At the age of 59, Ms. Jordan died due to complications with pneumonia. However, Barbara Jordan’s life-work was so incredibly impactful in the lives of Texans and all Americans, even after her death, she still continues to receive distinguished honors. In 1994, she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was elected to be inducted in both the Texas and National Women’s Hall of Fame. The main terminal at the airport in Austin, Texas is named after Ms. Jordan. And in 2009, the University of Texas unveiled a statue, depicting the likeness of the American history maker.