Home > Uncategorized > February 10 – Barbara Jordan

February 10 – Barbara Jordan

Back in my freshman year of college at the University of Texas (Hook ‘em!), the big news in town was that Robert Mueller Airport was being replaced by the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Kenny, my childhood friend / college roommate had a fascination with airports and was also taking a class taught by Larry Speck (the lead architect on the project), so of course we took a tour of the place before it opened. My initial impression of the place: Cool airport for a cool city… But who is Barbara Jordan, and why did they name a terminal after her??

My curiosity didn’t even survive the drive back to Dobie Dormitory, and embarrassingly, I didn’t know the answer to those questions until a few hours ago when I was researching topics for today’s BHM post… Better late than never, I suppose!

Barbara Jordan was born on Feb 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas to a minister and a domestic worker. As a young child, Jordan was a top student who excelled at debate and graduated in the upper 5% of her class. Post-high school, she had dreams of studying political science at UT Austin, but decided against it as the school was still segregated at the time. Instead, she attended Texas Southern University, studied Poli Sci and History, became a national champion debater, and graduated magna cum laude. Jordan then studied law at Boston University and graduated in 1959.

After a brief stint as a Poli Sci professor at Tuskegee, Jordan returned to Houston to start a law practice, and to pursue politics. She ran twice (in 1962 and 1964) for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, and twice she failed. Then, in 1966, she earned a seat in the Texas Senate, becoming the first Black woman ever to do so. Despite racial obstacles and pressures, Jordan managed to accomplish quite a bit in just six short years, becoming:

  • the first Black elected official to preside over the Senate
  • the first Black state senator to chair a major committee
  • the first freshman senator named to the Texas Legislative Council
  • the first Black female senator to be elected President Pro Tem of the Legislature.
  • And in 1972, she became the first Black woman ever elected to the US House of Representatives.

From 1966-1979, both as a State Senator and as a US Congresswoman, Jordan worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged, and minorities. In particular, she is remembered for increasing injured workers’ benefits through the Workman’s Compensation Act, and for expanding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to eliminate unfair registration practices such as literacy tests, thereby preventing minority votes (especially those of Mexicans in Texas and other Southwestern states) from being excluded.

Jordan was close friends with President Lyndon Johnson, made a very strong and public statement at Nixon’s impeachment hearing, and at one point in her career, was even tapped as a potential running mate for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. Unfortunately, in 1979, Jordan was forced to retire from politics due to complications with multiple sclerosis. With politics behind her, Jordan became a Professor of Public Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Barbara Jordan died in 1996 of pneumonia. Upon her death, Jordan lay in state at the LBJ Library, and was then buried in the Texas State Cemetery… the first Black woman ever so honored.

thanks for reading,

francis

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