JORDAN, BARBARA CHARLINE
JORDAN, BARBARA CHARLINE (1936–1996). Barbara Jordan, politician and educator, was born in Houston, Texas, on February 21, 1936, the youngest of three daughters of Benjamin and Arlyne (Patten) Jordan. She grew up in the Fifth Ward of Houston and attended public schools. Her father, a warehouse clerk and Baptist minister, assisted her in attending Texas Southern University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1956. She received a law degree from Boston University in 1959 and passed bar exams in Massachusetts and Texas the same year. After teaching at Tuskegee Institute for a year, Jordan returned to Houston in 1960. She opened a law practice and worked from her parents' home for three years until she saved enough to open an office. She became involved in politics by registering black voters for the 1960 presidential campaign, and twice ran unsuccessfully for state office in the early 1960s. In 1967 redistricting and increased registration of black voters secured her a seat in the Texas Senate, where she was the first black state senator since 1883. Her career was endorsed and facilitated by Lyndon Baines Johnson. Eschewing a confrontational approach, Jordan quickly developed a reputation as a master of detail and as an effective pragmatist and gained the respect of her thirty white male colleagues. While in the legislature she worked for minimum-wage laws and voter registration and chaired the Labor and Management Relations Committee. In 1972 she was unanimously elected president pro tempore of the Senate.
The following year Jordan successfully ran for the United States House of Representatives from the Eighteenth Texas District. She was the first black woman from a Southern state to serve in Congress, and, with Andrew Young, was the first of two African Americans to be elected to Congress from the South in the twentieth century. With her precise diction and booming voice, Jordan was an extremely effective public speaker. She gained national prominence for her role in the 1974 Watergate hearings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee when she delivered what many considered to be the best speech of the hearings. In that speech she asserted, "My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution." Impressed with her eloquence and stature in the party, the Democratic party chose her to deliver the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic national convention; she was the first woman to do so. Her speech, which addressed the themes of unity, equality, accountability, and American ideals, was considered by many to be the highlight of the convention, and helped rally support for James E. Carter's presidential campaign. In 1979, after three terms in congress, Jordan retired from politics to accept the Lyndon Baines Johnson Public Service Professorship at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. She taught courses on intergovernmental relations, political values, and ethics. She published her autobiography, Barbara Jordan: A Self Portrait, in 1979. She served as ethics advisor to Governor Ann Richards in the early 1990s. In 1992 she once again delivered the keynote address at the Democratic national convention. She served as chairwoman of the United States Commission on Immigration Reform in 1994.
Among her many honors were induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. She suffered from a number of ailments in her later years, including a form of multiple sclerosis, and was confined to a wheelchair. She survived a near-drowning incident at her home in 1988, but succumbed to pneumonia and leukemia in Austin on January 17, 1996. Barbara Jordan is buried in the State Cemetery in Austin. Her papers are housed at the Barbara Jordan Archives at Texas Southern University.
Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Mark Odintz, "JORDAN, BARBARA CHARLINE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjoas), accessed May 26, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 5, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.