Barbara Charline Jordan, Politician, Civil Rights Movement   Leave a comment

Barbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was an American politician and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. On her death she became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

  Early life

Barbara Jordan was born in Houston, TexasFifth Ward.[1] Her parents were Benjamin Jordan, a Baptist minister; and Arlyne Jordan, a “domestic worker”.[1] Barbara attended Roberson Elementary School.[1] She graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1952 as an honor student.[1][2]

Due to segregation, she did not attend The University of Texas at Austin and instead chose Texas Southern University, majoring in political science and history. Barbara was a national champion debater, defeating her opponents from such schools as Yale and Brown and tying Harvard University.[1] She graduated magna cum laude in 1956.[1][2] At Texas Southern University, she pledged Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[1] She attended Boston University School of Law, graduating in 1959.[1][2]


Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year.[1] In 1960, she returned to Houston, passed the bar and started a private law practice.[1]

Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives.[3] Her persistence won her a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body.[3] Re-elected to a full term in the Texas Senate in 1968, she served until 1972. She was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tem of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas.

In 1972, she was elected to Congress, the first woman to represent Texas in the House in her own right. She received extensive support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who helped her secure a position on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1974, she made an influential, televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the impeachment of Richard Nixon, Johnson’s successor as President.

In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia,[3] became instead the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.[3] Her speech in New York that summer was ranked 5th in “Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century” list and was considered by some historians[who?] to have been among the best convention keynote speeches in modern history.[citation needed] Despite not being a candidate, Jordan received one delegate vote (0.03%) for President at the convention.[citation needed]

Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became an adjunct professor teaching ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. She again was a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.

In 1994 and until her death in 1996, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which advocated increased restriction of immigration, called for all U.S. residents to carry a national identity card and increased penalties on employers that violated U.S. immigration regulations.[4][5] Then-President Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission’s proposals.[6] While she was Chair of the US Commission on Immigration Reform she argued that “it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.” Her stance on immigration is cited by opponents of current US immigration policy who cite her willingness to penalize employers who violate US immigration regulations, to tighten border security, and to oppose amnesty or any other pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants[citation needed] and to broaden the grounds for the deportation of legal immigrants.[7]


Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Jordan supported the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, legislation that required banks to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities. She supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and expansion of that act to cover language minorities. This extended protection to Hispanics in Texas and was opposed by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe and Secretary of State Mark White.

 Personal life

In 1973, Jordan began to suffer from multiple sclerosis. She had difficulty climbing stairs, and she started using a cane and eventually a wheelchair. She kept the state of her health out of the press so well that in the KUT radio documentary Rediscovering Barbara Jordan, President Bill Clinton stated that he wanted to nominate Jordan for the United States Supreme Court, but by the time he could do so, Jordan’s health problems prevented him from nominating her.[8] Jordan later also suffered from leukemia.[2]

Jordan’s partner of close to 30 years was Nancy Earl. Jordan met Earl, an educational psychologist who would become an occasional speech writer in addition to Jordan’s partner, on a camping trip in the late 1960s.[2][3] Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, the Houston Chronicle mentioned her long relationship with Earl.[9][10] However, Jordan biographer Mary Beth Rogers, author of “Barbara Jordan: American Hero,” had not confirmed that the former congresswoman was a lesbian.[11] After Jordan’s initial unsuccessful statewide races, advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female partners on the campaign trail.[3][12]

Jordan narrowly escaped death by drowning in July 1988 when Earl pulled her from their backyard swimming pool.[2] Her death in 1996 was caused from complications of pneumonia.[1]

  Awards, honors and memorials

Barbara Jordan Memorial at UT Austin

In 1993, Jordan was honored with the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. The many other honors given to her include her election into both the Texas and National Women’s Hall of Fame; she was awarded the prestigious United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award, becoming only the second female awardee.

Upon her death on January 17, 1996, Jordan lay in state at the LBJ Library on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. She was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, and was the first black woman interred there. Her papers are housed at the Barbara Jordan Archives at Texas Southern University.

The main terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is named after her, as are an elementary school in Odessa, Texas, a middle school in Cibolo, Texas; Barbara Jordan High School in Houston. The Kaiser Family Foundation currently operates the Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars, a fellowship designed for people of color who are college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates as a summer experience working in a congressional office.

On March 27, 2000, a play on Jordan’s life premièred at the Victory Garden Theater in Chicago, Illinois.[13] Titled, “Voice of Good Hope”, Kristine Thatcher‘s biographical evocation of Jordan’s life played in theaters from San Francisco to New York.[14]

On April 24, 2009, a Barbara Jordan statue was unveiled at the University of Texas at Austin, where Jordan taught at the time of her death. The Barbara Jordan statue campaign was paid for by a student fee increase approved by the University of Texas Board of Regents. The effort was originally spearheaded by the 2002-2003 Tappee class of the Texas Orange Jackets, the “oldest women’s organization at the University” (of Texas at Austin).[15]

Many of Jordan’s speeches have been collected in a 2007 publication from the University of Texas Press, Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder.”[16]

In her namesake, the Jordan/Rustin Coalition (JRC) was created in California in 2000. This organization seeks to mobilize gay and lesbian African American to aid in the passage of marriage equality in the state of California. Along with Bayard Rustin, a civil rights leader and close confidante of Martin Luther King, Jr., Barbara Jordan is remembered for her advocacy of progressive politics. According to its website, “the mission [of the JRC] is to empower Black same-gender loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families in Greater Los Angeles, to promote equal marriage rights and to advocate for fair treatment of everyone without regard to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

In 2011, actor/playwright Jade Esteban Estrada portrayed Jordan in the solo musical comedy ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 5 which includes the song “Nancy’s Eyes” sung by the character of Jordan with music and lyrics by Estrada.


Posted February 29, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: