Written by on February 21, 2019

Story by Chuck Tackett


Before there was a Rep. “Auntie Maxine” Waters, before there was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there was a presence in Congress back in the 1970s whose shoulders these two Congresswomen clearly stands on: Rep. Barbara Jordan. As a teenager and young adult in the early to mid-1970s, I could sit and listen to Congresswoman Jordan, hypnotized by her oratorical adeptness. Back in the day when someone would mention her name, you would immediately think – “that voice”.

Born February 21st, 1936, in Houston, Texas, Barbara Charline Jordan was the child of Benjamin Jordan, a Baptist minister and Arlyne who was a maid, and housewife.

Ms. Jordan attended the segregated Phyllis High School. On career day, a Black lawyer, Edith Sampson inspired Ms. Jordan to become an attorney. When it was time to attend college, Barbara Jordan was a member of the inaugural class of Texas Southern University (TSU) now a historically Black college. It was hastily created by the Texan legislators to avoid having the University of Texas become integrated. During her tenure as a member of the first class, Ms. Jordan was a member of the Debate team and helped it to national renown. The team famously tied with Harvard’s debate team when they came to Houston.

Jordan graduated magna cum laude from (TSU) in 1956. She was accepted at Boston’s University Law School. Barbara Jordan earned her law degree 3 years later, is one of two Black women in her class. Ms. Jordan passed the bar in both Massachusetts and Texas. She returned to Texas and opened up a law office in Texas’s 5th Ward.

Beginning her political career in 1960, Ms. Jordan volunteered for John Kennedy’s 1960 Presidential campaign heading a Harris County voter drive that yielded an 80% voter turnout. Twice she ran for the Texas House but was unsuccessful. In 1966, she won a newly created seat in the Texas State Senate. During her tenure, Texas State Senator Jordan passed a state minimum wage law that covered farm workers. Jordan’s colleagues elected her president pro tem which allowed her to serve as Governor of Texas for one day – June 10, 1972, a state tradition.

Five months later, Ms. Jordan ran for Congress as the Democratic nominee for Houston’s 18th District. She became the first Black woman from a Southern State to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Jordan was appointed to key posts including the House Judicial Committee with the support of her longtime close adviser: former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

On July 25th, 1974, Rep. Jordan delivered a 13-minute opening statement in the impeachment hearing for President Richard Nixon. Rep. Jordan won national acclaim for her rhetoric, intellect, and integrity. In 1974, Rep. Jordan was asked to deliver the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, another first for Black women.

While Rep. Jordan was in Congress, she worked on legislation promoting women’s rights, supported the Equal rights Amendment, and sponsored a bill that would have granted housewives Social Security benefits on their domestic labor.

R ep. Jordan retired from Congress in 1979. She became a professor at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. She helped derail President George W Bush’s nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bork had opposed many Civil Rights cases.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On January 12th, 1996, President Clinton had wanted to nominate Rep. Jordan to the U.S, supreme court, but her deteriorating health prevented him from doing so. Rep. Jordan passed away from leukemia-related pneumonia. She was the first Black woman to be buried with the Governors, Senators, and Congressmen in the Texas State Cemetery.

Rep. Barbara Jordan is a Black History Month, Women’s History Month and LGBTQ icon.

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