Barbara Jordan was the first African American representative to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. After receiving a B.A. in political science and history from Texas Southern University in 1956, she attended law school and was admitted to the Massachusetts and Texas bars in 1959. After unsuccessful bids in 1962 and 1964, Jordan ran and won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1966, and she became the first African American person since 1883 to serve in the Texas Senate.
In 1972 Jordan was elected to represent Texas’ Eighteenth District in the House of Representatives. While in Congress, she served as a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Government Operations. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Jordan was in the national spotlight during the Watergate hearings that would eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon. Through her work, Jordan was a champion of civil rights as she worked tirelessly to create an inclusive society that valued and respected all of its citizens. Her style of oratory and clarity of vision on the issues made her potential as a presidential candidate a topic of conversation among liberals.
In December 1977, Jordan announced that she would not be a candidate for reelection the following year. In 1979 she became a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. In August 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Ms. Jordan the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Sadly, on January 17, 1996, in Austin, Texas, Ms. Jordan gently passed away. Throughout her lifetime, Barbara Jordan was a pioneer in many areas. Following are areas in which she stood out as being the ‘first’:
- Member of the first debate team from an African-American university to compete in the forensic tournament held annually at Baylor University.
- Served as administrative assistant to the County Judge of Harris County, becoming the first African-American woman to hold that position.
- First African-American state senator in Texas since the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.
- Author of the first successful minimum wage bill in the state of Texas.
- Served as “Governor for a Day” while president pro-tempore of the Texas Senate in 1972, becoming the first African-American woman to serve as chief executive of any state in the union.
- Along with Andrew Young of Georgia, first African-American Southerner to be elected to the U.S. Congress since Reconstruction.
- First African-American woman from the South to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
- First African-American Texan elected to Congress.
- First woman and the first African-American to deliver the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention.
- First African-American buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
- First female to be honored with a statue on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.