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 - Restoration.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
January 10, 1967 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by 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.
Political party Democratic
Domestic partner Nancy Earl (late 1960s–1996)
Alma mater Texas Southern University
Boston University
Religion Baptist

Barbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was a lawyer, educator,[1] an American politician, and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. A Democrat, she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first Southern African American female elected to the United States House of Representatives, the first known lesbian woman elected to the United States Congress (though this was not known to the public during her tenure), and the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1978 to 1980.[2] On her death, she became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.[3]

Early life[edit]

Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas's Fifth Ward.[4] Jordan's childhood centered on church life: her parents were Benjamin Jordan, a Baptist preacher; and Arlyne Patten Jordan, a teacher in the church.[1][4] Jordan, the youngest of 3 girls,[1] had two siblings, Rosemary Jordan McGowan and Bennie Jordan Creswell (d. 2000). Jordan attended Roberson Elementary School.[4] She graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1952 with honors.[1][4][5]

Jordan credited a speech she heard in her high school years by Edith S. Sampson with inspiring her to become a lawyer.[6] 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 opponents from Yale and Brown and tying Harvard University.[4] She graduated magna cum laude in 1956.[4][5] At Texas Southern University, she pledged Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[4] She attended Boston University School of Law, graduating in 1959.[4][5]


Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year.[4] In 1960, she returned to Houston, passed the bar and started a private law practice.[4]

Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives.[7] She won 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.[7] 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. To date Jordan is the only African American woman to serve as governor of a state (excluding lieutenant governors).[8] During her time in the Texas Legislature, Jordan sponsored or cosponsored some 70 bills.[8]

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.[9] 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,[7] became instead the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.[7] Despite not being a candidate, Jordan received one delegate vote (0.03%) for President at the Convention.[10]

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.

Jordan and President Carter, ca. 1977. Photo by Dev O'Neill.

In 1994 and until her death in 1996, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which advocated increased restriction of immigration, increased penalties on employers that violated US immigration regulations.[11][12][13] While she was Chair of the U.S. 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 modern U.S. immigration policy have cited her willingness to penalize employers who violate U.S. immigration regulations, tighten border security, oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, harm to US citizens in jobs and employment from cheaper illegal alien workers,[citation needed], and clear process for the deportation of legal immigrants.[14] In 1994, Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and The NAACP presented her with the Springarn Medal.[1] She was honored many times and was given over 20 honorary degrees from institutions across the country, including Harvard and Princeton, and was elected to the Texas and National Women's Halls of Fame.[1]

Statement on the Articles of Impeachment[edit]

On July 25, 1974, Texas Representative Barbara Jordan delivered a fifteen-minute televised speech in front of the members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.[15] She presented the opening speech for former President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings.[16] This speech is thought to be one of the best speeches of the 20th century.[17] Throughout her speech, Jordan strongly stood by the Constitution of the United States of America. She defended the checks and balances system, which was set in place to inhibit any politician from abusing their power.[18] Jordan never flat out said that she wanted Nixon impeached, but rather subtly and cleverly implied her thoughts.[19] She simply stated facts that proved Nixon to be untrustworthy and heavily involved in illegal situations.[20] She protested that the Watergate scandal will forever ruin the trust American citizens have for their government.[21] One of the reasons Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal was because of this speech. [22]This powerful and influential statement earned Barbara Jordan national praise for her rhetoric, morals, and wisdom.[23]


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. During Jordan's tenure as a Congresswoman she sponsored or cosponsored over 300 bills or resolutions, several of which are still in effect today as law.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Jordan's partner of approximately thirty years was Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist, whom she met on a camping trip in the late 1960s.[5][7] Earl acted as an occasional speech writer for Jordan, and later as a caregiver when Jordan began to suffer from multiple sclerosis in 1973. 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.[24] Jordan later also suffered from leukemia.[5]

In 1988, Jordan nearly drowned in her backyard swimming pool while performing physical therapy, but she was saved by Earl who found her floating in the pool and revived her.[25]

Jordan died at the age of 59 due to complications from pneumonia on January 17, 1996, in Austin, Texas.[26]

Recognition and legacy[edit]

Her 1974 statement on the articles of impeachment (regarding President Richard Nixon) was listed as #13 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).[29][30]

Her 1976 DNC keynote address was listed as #5 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).[29]

Namesakes in Texas[edit]

The main terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is named after Jordan, as well as a boulevard in central Austin. Several schools bear Jordan's name, including an elementary school in Odessa, Texas, and Austin, Texas, Barbara Jordan Early College Prep School, 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.

Other honors[edit]

In 2000, the Jordan/Rustin Coalition (JRC) was created in Jordan's honor. 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."

On March 27, 2000, a play based on Jordan's life premiered at the Victory Garden Theater in Chicago, Illinois.[31] Titled, "Voice of Good Hope", Kristine Thatcher's biographical evocation of Jordan's life played in theaters from San Francisco to New York.[32]

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).[33]

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.[34]

In 2012, Jordan was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[35]

The Barbara Jordan Media Awards are given annually to media professionals and students who "have produced material for the public which accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities, using People First language and respectful depictions."[36]

There is also the Barbara Jordan Public-Private Leadership Award.[37]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Finkelman, Paul (2009). Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-First Century. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 59–61. ISBN 978-0-19-516779-5. 
  2. ^ The Peabody Awards - George Foster Peabody Awards Board Members
  3. ^ "Barbara Jordan". Humanities Texas. Retrieved 18 February 2016. [...] When she died, in 1996, her burial in the Texas State Cemetery marked yet another first: she was the first black woman interred there. [...] 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Barbara Jordan at the Wayback Machine (archived July 16, 2011) at
  5. ^ a b c d e Profile: Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) at the Wayback Machine (archived November 14, 2008) at Human Rights Campaign
  6. ^ Ross, Irwin (February 1977). "Barbara Jordan-New Voice in Washington". The Reader's Digest: 148–152. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Stateswoman Barbara Jordan – A Closeted Lesbian". Planet Out. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved July 12, 2007. 
  8. ^ a b c Barbara Jordan Papers, Special Collections, Texas Southern University, October 15, 2015.
  9. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan". 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  10. ^ "Our Campaigns - US President - D Convention Race - Jul 12, 1976". Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  11. ^ "The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  12. ^ Cassidy, Peter. "We have your number: the push for a national ID card." The Progressive, December 1, 1994. However that is at odds to what the Jordan Commission says its report recommended, "Unfortunately, they have also been misrepresented as a national ID card. What the Commission has recommended is a measured approach to the development of a new system for verifying that individuals are authorized to work in the United States-that is all" (Jordan testimony before Congress on Sept 29, 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," according to open border supporters. Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission's proposals. President Clinton said the proposals “reflect a balanced immigration policy that makes the most of our diversity while protecting the American work force so that we can better compete in the emerging global economy.”
  13. ^ Pear, Robert. "Clinton Embraces a Proposal to Cut Immigration by a Third." The New York Times. Accessed May 13, 2008.
  14. ^ "Testimony of Barbara Jordan, February 24, 1995". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan Profile," The History Channel, A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1996-2013. Accessed 5 October 2013
  16. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan Profile," The History Channel, A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1996-2013. Accessed 5 October 2013
  17. ^ "American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches," American Rhetoric Website, 2001-2013. Accessed 5 October 2013
  18. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan Profile," The History Channel, A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1996-2013. Accessed 5 October 2013
  19. ^ "Mr.Newman's Digital Rhetorical Symposium: Barbara Jordan: Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, "Newman Rhetoric Blogging Website, 2010. Accessed 5 October 2013.
  20. ^ "Mr.Newman's Digital Rhetorical Symposium: Barbara Jordan: Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, "Newman Rhetoric Blogging Website, 2010. Accessed 5 October 2013.
  21. ^ "Mr.Newman's Digital Rhetorical Symposium: Barbara Jordan: Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, "Newman Rhetoric Blogging Website, 2010. Accessed 5 October 2013.
  22. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan Profile," The History Channel, A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1996-2013. Accessed 5 October 2013
  23. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan Profile," The History Channel, A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1996-2013. Accessed 5 October 2013
  24. ^ Transcript of Rediscovering Barbara Jordan,, February 8, 2006. Retrieved November 4, 2006.
  25. ^ "Barbara Jordan is hospitalized". Retrieved March 7, 2015. 
  26. ^ "Barbara Jordan dies at 59". Retrieved March 7, 2015. 
  27. ^ "NAACP Spingarn Medal". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Barbara Jordan Sylvanus Thayer Award". Retrieved March 7, 2015. 
  29. ^ a b Michael E. Eidenmuller (2009-02-13). "Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century by Rank". American Rhetoric. Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  30. ^ Michael E. Eidenmuller (1974-07-25). "Barbara Jordan - Statement on House Judiciary Proceedings to Impeach President Richard Nixon". American Rhetoric. Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  31. ^ Thatcher, Kristine (2004). Voice of Good Hope. Dramatists Play Service, Inc. ISBN 0-8222-1960-3. 
  32. ^ Siegel, Naomi. "THEATER REVIEW; She Had a Voice That Resonates Still", The New York Times, November 24, 2002. Retrieved November 20, 2008.
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ "Stamp honors political trailblazer Barbara Jordan". ABC13 Houston. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  35. ^ Victor Salvo // The Legacy Project. "2012 INDUCTEES". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  36. ^ Office of the Governor - Greg Abbott: Committee on People with Disabilities - Barbara Jordan Media Awards
  37. ^ The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton Receives Barbara Jordan Public Private Leadership Award

External links[edit]

Texas Senate
Preceded by
Bill Moore
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 11th district

Succeeded by
Chet Brooks
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Bob Price
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
Served alongside: John Glenn
Succeeded by
Mo Udall
Preceded by
Ann Richards
Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Served alongside: Bill Bradley, Zell Miller
Succeeded by
Evan Bayh