Barbara Jordan


Barbara Jordan

 1936 1996

"What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise."

"We want to be in control of our lives. Whether we are jungle fighters, craftsmen, company men, gamesmen, we want to be in control. And when the government erodes that control, we are not comfortable."


Barbara Jordan distinguished herself in a number of fields, but at the peak of her popularity, chose to invest herself in preparing others to lead the country. Her story can serve as an inspiration to all.


Barbara Jordan was born in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas to a Black Baptist minister, Benjamin Jordan, and a domestic worker, Arlyne Jordan. She attended Roberson Elementary and Phyllis Wheatley High School.

While at Wheatley, she was a member of the Honor Society and excelled in debating. She graduated in 1952 in the upper five percent of her class. She wanted to study political science at the University of Texas-Austin, but was discouraged because the school was still segregated.

She attended Texas Southern University and pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Barbara was a national champion debater, defeating her opponents from such schools as Yale and Brown and tying Harvard University.

In 1956, she graduated magna cum laude from Texas Southern with a double major in political science and history. She expressed an interest in attending Harvard University School of Law, but opted to go to Boston University and graduated in 1959.

Ms. Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for one year before returning to Houston in 1960 to take the bar examination and set up a private law practice.

She ran for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and 1964, but lost both times.... however, she made history when she was elected to the newly drawn Texas Senate seat in 1966, thereby becoming the first Black to serve in that body since 1883. She was an oddity at that time, as the first Black woman in that state's legislature.

Her brief 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, Labor and Management Relations, and the first freshman senator ever named to the Texas Legislative Council.

When the Texas legislature convened in special session in March, 1972, Senator Jordan was unanimously elected president pro tempore. In June of that year, she was honored by being named Governor for a Day. Shortly, thereafter she decided to run for Congress and was elected, in Nov. 1972, from the newly drawn Eighteenth Congressional District in Houston.

Both as a state senator and as a U.S. Congressman, Jordan sponsored bills that championed the cause of poor, Black, and disadvantaged people. One of the most important bills as senator was the Workman's Compensation Act, which increased the maximum benefits paid to injured workers. As a congresswoman, she sponsored legislation to broaden the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to cover Mexican Americans in Texas and other southwestern states and to extend its authority to those states where minorities had been denied the right to vote or had had their rights restricted by unfair registration practices, such as literacy tests.

She gained national prominence for the position she took and the statement she made at the 1974 impeachment hearing of President Richard Nixon. In casting a "yes" vote, Jordan stated,"My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total." Having become a national celebrity, Ms. Jordan was chosen as a keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention in 1976, and again in 1992. She was the first Black selected to keynote a major political convention.

President Jimmy Carter considered her for attorney general and U.N. Ambassador but she chose to remain in Congress. She was seriously thinking about challenging Sen. John Tower for re-election in 1978, but became ill and retired from politics.

She became a Professor of Public Affairs at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs. She was very close to President Johnson, often visiting him at the White House as a state Senator. In 1987, she became an eloquent voice against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. She served as an unpaid adviser on ethics for former Gov. Ann Richards of Texas and was praised for her work on the Clinton panel on Immigration Reform.

Barbara Jordan died of complications from pneumonia on January 17, 1996.