Barbara Charline Jordan began her distinguished public service career with her election to the Texas Legislature in 1966. Jordan’s victory made her the first African American woman to serve in the Texas Senate and the first African-American elected to the body since 1883. Barbara Jordan rose to the national stage from Houston’s largely African-American Fifth Ward, becoming a public defender of the U.S. Constitution and a leading presence in Democratic Party politics for two decades.
Jordan attended the segregated Phyllis Wheatley High School, where a career day speech by Edith Sampson, a black lawyer, inspired her to become an attorney. Jordan was a member of the inaugural class at Texas Southern University, a black college hastily created by the Texas legislature to avoid having to integrate the University of Texas. There Jordan joined the debate team and helped lead it to national renown. The team famously tied Harvard’s debaters when they came to Houston. Jordan graduated magna cum laude from Texas Southern University in 1956 and was accepted at Boston University’s law school. Three years later, Jordan earned her law degree as one of only two African-American women in her class. She passed the Massachusetts and Texas bars and returned to Houston to open a law office in the Fifth Ward.
In 1972 she became the first African American woman from the South to be elected to the United States Congress, serving as a member of the House of Representatives until 1979. The highlights of Jordan’s legislative career include her landmark speech during Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings in 1974, her successful efforts in 1975 to expand the Voting Rights Act to include language for minorities, and her keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 1976. From 1979 until her death in 1996, Jordan served as a distinguished professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) School (University of Texas), holding the LBJ Centennial Chair in National Policy. She was again a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.
ADVICE TO HOUSTONIANS
State Senator Barbara Jordan speaking here at memorial services for Dr. Martin Luther
King, had a message to all Houstonians. Here is the heart of her remarks:
Martin Luther King had faith in America. Martin Luther King did not want to divide America. Martin Luther King did not want to destroy the very fabric of this country. What he wanted to do was to make America realize its historical and traditional commitments to human justice and dignity for all people. He was not a hate monger. He was a love monger. He was not a man who sought to destroy the system. He sought to work within it, to change it so that all of us could somehow reap and enjoy the benefits of a greater and brighter tomorrow. He believed in the future of this country and he believed that we as a people, as a citizen of the country, should work to make this tradition and pronouncements a reality.
What this man dared to do was to envision a day when the least would be considered side by side with the greatest. So I say to every black Houstonian today, do not weep and do not hate. What I say to you is to stand firm, united in a cause that is just. Do not be divided. Let us move towards the unified goal of an America where every man will be free and be what he desires to be. I say to white Houstonians that this is not a time, this is not a moment, for you to advise or admonish the black community. This is not a moment to moralize what the black students on our college campuses are doing. This is not a time for you to make us become defensive about the posture we are asserting in many places in this country. But this is a time for white Houstonians to accede to black Houstonians the right of the dignity of their personalities, the right for them to proceed in the manner they see best to bring about the kind of open and just and honorable society so that all of us can live together as brothers.
“For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future…. We must address and master the future together.”