Barbara Jordan

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For the tennis player, see Barbara Jordan (tennis). For the poet, see Barbara Jordan (poet).
Barbara Jordan
Rep. Barbara Jordan.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 18th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by Bob Price
Succeeded by Mickey Leland
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 11th district
In office
Preceded by William T. "Bill" Moore
Succeeded by Chet Brooks
Personal details
Born Barbara Charline Jordan
(1936-02-21)February 21, 1936
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Died January 17, 1996(1996-01-17) (aged 59)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Texas State Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Texas Southern University
Boston University
Profession Attorney
Religion Baptist

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, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. 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.[1]

Early life[edit]

Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas' Fifth Ward.[2] Her parents were Benjamin Jordan, a Baptist minister; an Arlyne Jordan, a "domestic worker".[2] Barbara attended Roberson Elementary School.[2] She graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1952 as an honor student.[2][3]

Jordan credited a speech she heard in her high school years by Edith S. Sampson with inspiring her to become a lawyer.[4] Because of 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.[2] She graduated magna cum laude in 1956.[2][3] At Texas Southern University, she pledged Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[2] She attended Boston University School of Law, graduating in 1959.[2][3]


Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year.[2] In 1960, she returned to Houston, passed the bar and started a private law practice.[2]

Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives.[5] 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.[5] 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 process of impeachment of Richard Nixon, Johnson's successor as President. In 1975, she was appointed by Carl Albert, then Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia,[5] became instead the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.[5] 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.

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.[6][7] Then-President Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission's proposals.[8] 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.” Opponents of current US immigration policy have cited her willingness to penalize employers who violate US immigration regulations, tighten border security, oppose amnesty or any other pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants,[citation needed] and broaden the grounds for the deportation of legal immigrants.[9]


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. She also authored an act that ended federal authorization of price fixing by manufacturers.

Personal life[edit]

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.[10] Jordan later also suffered from leukemia.[3]

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.[3][5] Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, the Houston Chronicle mentioned her long relationship with Earl.[11][12] However, one of Jordan's biographers, Mary Beth Rogers, neither confirmed nor denied that the former congresswoman was a lesbian, commenting that there were many reasons to explain why Jordan was so intensely private about her personal life.[13] After Jordan's initial unsuccessful statewide races, advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female partners on the campaign trail.[5][14]

Awards, honors and memorials[edit]

In 1992, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[15]

In 1993, Jordan was honored with the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

In 1994, Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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.

The main terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is named after her, as are an elementary school in Austin, Texas, Barbara Jordan Early College Prep School (formally known as Barbara Jordan Elementary School), Odessa, Texas, a middle school in Cibolo, Texas; and 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.[16] Titled, "Voice of Good Hope", Kristine Thatcher's biographical evocation of Jordan's life played in theaters from San Francisco to New York.[17]

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).[18]

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."[19]

In her namesake, the Jordan/Rustin Coalition (JRC) was created in California in 2000. The organization mobilized gay and lesbian African Americans 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.

In 2011, the Barbara Jordan Forever Stamp was issued. It is the 34th stamp in the Black Heritage series of U.S. stamps.[20]

In 2012 Jordan was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Barbara Jordan". Humanities Texas > Texas Originals. Retrieved 20 October 2013. [...] When she died, in 1996, her burial in the Texas State Cemetery marked yet another first: she was the first black woman interred there. [...] 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Barbara Jordan at the Wayback Machine (archived July 16, 2011) at
  3. ^ a b c d e Profile: Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) at the Wayback Machine (archived November 14, 2008) at Human Rights Campaign
  4. ^ Ross, Irwin (February 1977). "Barbara Jordan-New Voice in Washington". The Reader's Digest: 148–152. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Stateswoman Barbara Jordan – A Closeted Lesbian". Planet Out. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved July 12, 2007. 
  6. ^ "The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  7. ^ Cassidy, Peter. "We have your number: the push for a national ID card." The Progressive, December 1, 1994. "The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, headed by widely respected former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, turned in its long-awaited recommendations in September, and among them was one that could severely curb traditional American freedoms."
  8. ^ Pear, Robert. "Clinton Embraces a Proposal to Cut Immigration by a Third." The New York Times. Accessed May 13, 2008.
  9. ^ "Testimony of Barbara Jordan, February 24, 1995". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  10. ^ Transcript of Rediscovering Barbara Jordan,, February 8, 2006. Retrieved November 4, 2006.
  11. ^ Pegueros, Rosa Maria. "Barbara Jordan, E. Bradford Burns and Me: Coming Out in Public Life". Setting Out II. URI's Annual Symposium on Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Issues, April 10–12, 1996. Retrieved May 30, 2009. 
  12. ^ Smith, Clay. Two Bios of Barbara, Austin Chronicle, Volume 18, Number 24, February 12, 1999.
  13. ^ Rogers, Mary Beth. Barbara Jordan: American Hero. Bantam, 2000.
  14. ^ Moss, J Jennings. "Barbara Jordan: The other life", The Advocate, Los Angeles: March 5, 1996, Issue 702; p. 38.
  15. ^ "NAACP Spingarn Medal". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  16. ^ Thatcher, Kristine (2004). Voice of Good Hope. Dramatists Play Service, Inc. ISBN 0-8222-1960-3. 
  17. ^ Siegel, Naomi. "THEATER REVIEW; She Had a Voice That Resonates Still", The New York Times, November 24, 2002. Retrieved November 20, 2008.
  18. ^ Sanders, Joshunda (April 20, 2009). "Jordan's statue to grace UT campus: Dedication of Barbara Jordan statue on Friday will include a weeklong celebration". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Sherman, Barbara Jordan, University of Texas Press". May 12, 1974. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Stamp honors political trailblazer Barbara Jordan". ABC13 Houston. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  21. ^ Victor Salvo // The Legacy Project. "2012 INDUCTEES". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Texas Senate
Preceded by
William T. "Bill" Moore (redistricting)
Texas State Senator
from District 11 (Houston)

Succeeded by
Chet Brooks
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Bob Price (redistricting)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 18th congressional district

Succeeded by
Mickey Leland
Party political offices
Preceded by
Reubin Askew
Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Along with John Glenn

Succeeded by
Mo Udall
Preceded by
Ann Richards
Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Succeeded by
Evan Bayh