Barbara Charline Jordan
Barbara Charline Jordan experienced many firsts in her career and life. She was the first African-American woman to be elected to the Texas Senate since Reconstruction, the first southern black female to be 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 also became the first black woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery. She is best remembered for her defense of the Constitution during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Born February 21, 1936, in Houston, Texas, Jordan was a lawyer, educator, politician and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was the youngest of three daughters. Her father, Benjamin Jordan, was a Baptist preacher who moonlighted as a warehouse clerk, and her mother, Arlyne Patten Jordan, was a maid, housewife and teacher in the church. Barbara Jordan was encouraged from a young age by her parents to strive for academic excellence, which she did. After graduating with honors from high school in 1952, she attended Texas Southern University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1956. She went on to receive a law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1959 and began her career as a teacher of political science at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After one year of teaching, she returned to Houston to pass the bar and start a private law practice in 1960.
In 1962 and 1964, she unsuccessfully campaigned for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. However, her persistence paid off, and in 1966, she finally won a seat in the Texas Senate, thus becoming the first African-American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in the position. She was re-elected to a second term which she held from 1968 to 1972. Creating history yet again, in 1972, she became the first African-American female to be voted to serve as president pro tem of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas. The same year, her career witnessed another landmark as she won an election to the US House of Representatives, becoming the first woman to represent Texas in the House.
With the help and support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, she secured a position on the House Judiciary Committee. It was as a member of the House Judiciary Committee that she was thrust into the national spotlight during the Watergate scandal. Jordan delivered an influential, televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee calling for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon for his involvement in this illegal political enterprise. Her impeachment speech helped lead to Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal and won Jordan national acclaim for her rhetoric, intellect, and integrity. In 1976 she, went on to become the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National 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, until her death in 1996. Although retired, she remained heavily involved in politics and received 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. In 1994, she was awarded the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Bill Clinton.