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Barbara Jordan

Key African American in Congress

By

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan

Nancy R. Schiff / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Barbara Jordan Facts:

Known for: role in Watergate hearings; keynotes at 1976 and 1992 Democratic National Conventions; first Southern African American woman elected to Congress; second Southern African American elected to Congress after the end of Reconstruction; first African American woman in the Texas legislature
Occupation: lawyer, politician, teacher:
Texas Senate 1967-1973, U.S. House of Representatives 1973-1979; professor of political ethics at University of Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs; chair of U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
Dates: February 21, 1936 - January 17, 1996
Also known as: Barbara Charline Jordan

Barbara Jordan Biography:

Barbara Jordan grew up in Houston's black ghetto, attended segregated public schools, and an all-black college, where she graduated magna cum laude. She was involved in debate and oratory, winning a number of awards.

Law Career:

Barbara Jordan chose law as a career because she believed she would then be able to have an impact on racial injustice. She wanted to attend Harvard's law school, but was advised that a black woman student from a Southern school would probably not be accepted.

Barbara Jordan studied law at Boston University, saying later, "I realized that the best training available in an all-black instant university was not equal to the best training one developed as a white university student. Separate was not equal; it just wasn't. No matter what kind of face you put on it or how many frills you attached to it, separate was not equal. I was doing sixteen years of remedial work in thinking."

After earning her law degree in 1959, Barbara Jordan returned to Houston, starting a law practice from her parents' home and also getting involved in the 1960 election as a volunteer. Lyndon B. Johnson became her political mentor.

Elected to the Texas Senate:

After unsuccessful tries at being elected to the Texas House, in 1966 Barbara Jordan became the first African American since Reconstruction in the Texas Senate, the first black woman in the Texas legislature. A Supreme Court decision and redistricting to enforce "one man, one vote" helped make her election possible. She was reelected to the Texas Senate in 1968.

Elected to Congress:

In 1972, Barbara Jordan ran for national office, becoming the first black woman elected to Congress from the South, and, with Andrew Young, one of the first two African Americans elected since Reconstruction to the U.S. Congress from the South. While in Congress, Barbara Jordan came to national attention with her strong presence on the committee holding Watergate hearings, calling for impeachment of President Nixon on July 25, 1974. She was also a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, worked for legislation against racial discrimination, and helped establish voting rights for non-English-speaking citizens.

1976 DNC Speech:

At the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Barbara Jordan gave a powerful and memorable keynote speech, the first African American woman to give a keynote to that body. Many thought she would be named a vice presidential nominee, and later a Supreme Court justice.

After Congress:

In 1977 Barbara Jordan announced she would not run for another term in Congress, and became a professor, teaching government at the University of Texas.

In 1994, Barbara Jordan served on the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. When Ann Richards was the governor of Texas, Barbara Jordan was her ethics advisor.

Barbara Jordan struggled for many years with leukemia and multiple sclerosis. She died in 1996, survived by her long-time companion, Nancy Earl.

Background, Family:

  • Father: Ben Jordan (Baptist minister, laborer)
  • Mother: Arlyne (church activist)

Education:

  • Phillis Wheatley High School (1952)
  • Texas Southern University (magna cum laude)
  • Boston University (1959, law)

Elections:

  • 1960: volunteer for Lyndon B. Johnson's nomination
  • 1962: Texas House of Representatives (unsuccessful)
  • 1964: Texas House of Representatives (unsuccessful)
  • 1966: Texas Senate (successful)
  • 1972: U.S. House of Representatives (successful)
  • 1974, 1976: re-elected to U.S. House

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