Civil Rights Activist, U.S Representative
Education: Texas Southern University, Boston University
"What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise."
–Commencement address, Harvard University, 1977
On February 21, 1936, Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, TX. Her grandfather, John Ed Patton, a former minister, instilled in her a belief in the importance of education. She excelled in school and was a gifted orator, winning a national oration contest. After receiving a law degree from Boston University, she returned to Texas in 1959.
Jordan began practicing law in her kitchen to help poor people solve their legal problems. She ran for public office and became the first African American since 1883 and the first African-American woman ever, to serve in the Texas senate. She helped create the Texas Fair Employment and Practices Commission and fought for her state's first minimum wage requirement. She promoted voting rights for African Americans and worked to end racial discrimination in the workforce. She was named Outstanding Freshman Senator.
In 1972, Jordan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She helped extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She voted to increase funding to schools. She remarked, "Education remains the key to both economic and political empowerment. That is why the schools charged with educating African Americans have, perhaps, the greatest, the deepest challenge of all."
Jordan served on the Judiciary Committee that was charged with evaluating the evidence to consider the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Her incisive questioning and her defense of the Constitution made her a respected national figure. Ms. Jordan was the first woman to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1976.
Jordan retired from politics in 1978 and started teaching at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. She commented, "I'm teaching young people who will move into local, state, and federal positions of power." At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, Jordan gave the vice-presidential nomination speech for candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen. She had to deliver the speech from a wheelchair because of the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. In 1990, Jordan was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Ms. Jordan received the Spingarn Medal, which is awarded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for service to the African-American community in 1992.
National Women’s Hall of Fame
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of Prominent African Americans.