The Remarkable Life and Legacy of Barbara Jordan


Representative Barbara Jordan is remembered for her civil rights activism and her perseverance as a woman of Color in the American government. For women of color there has always been the challenge of racism and misogyny, but that did not stop Barbara Jordan from being a trailblazer and becoming the first black woman to be elected to congress from the Southern United States in the 20th century. She is remembered for tirelessly fighting for what she thought was right and working to improve and uplift the lives of Americans.

Born in Texas in 1936, Jordan grew up attending segregated public schools. She would later attend Texas Southern University where she graduated magna cum laude and eventually go to Boston University’s law school. She started off practicing law in Houston and also worked as an administrative assistant to a county judge. Through this job as an assistant she gained experience, income, and merit.

Shortly after in 1960, Barbara Jordan worked on a presidential candidate for John F. Kennedy where she advocated for the get-out-the-vote program which encouraged voting among the 40 African-American precincts in Houston. In hope to get elected to office herself, she decided to run for the Texas House of Representatives, after losing in both 1962 and 1964 she chose to run for the Texas Senate two years later. 

As a result of the court-ordered redistricting, Jordan’s constituency was largely made up of minority votes who were finally able to elect her as the first black state senator in over eighty years. While she was met with many white male senators who didn’t trust her, she worked to earn her reputation as an effective legislator. Jordan pushed bills regarding minimum wage, anti-discrimination in business contracts, and the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. Although originally met with disproving looks and cold glances, she was elected her president pro tempore of the Texas Senate with the help of her colleagues, and served as acting governor on June 10th the same year.

In 1971, she entered the race for Houston’s 18th district, and won with 80% of the primary vote and 81% of the vote in the general election. Once elected into the House, Jordan focused mostly on local issues rather than focusing on larger social issues. She stayed away from officially joining any interest groups, even the ones that appealed to her such as the House women and Congressional Black Caucus. Jordan had a seat on the Judiciary Committee throughout all the terms she served, and in her latter two she served on the Committee of Government Operations. She was responsible for introducing new civil rights amendments to legislation, and pushing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to include Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. 

Jordan was also key to the conviction and resignation of President Nixon as a result of the Watergate scandal. She believed the constitution proved that Nixon should be impeached, which she then conveyed through the fifteen minute opening statement of the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing for Richard Nixon. Approval of her speech and reaction was widespread earning her more fame and aiding in building up her reputation. She also spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 1976, 1988, and 1992 and was the first Black keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. Near the end of her life, Jordan was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame which is in Seneca, New York.