She said she “never intended to become a run-of-the-mill person.” And she didn’t. An educator and public servant, she was the first African American woman from the South to serve in Congress, and the first African American Texan there too. She was the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. She was pivotal in Watergate hearings, and after these and other career highlights, she returned to UT to teach at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Run-of-the-mill she indeed was not.
And so 2 years ago, an equally not run-of-the-mill organization made a not run-of-the-mill decision. Within the Tappee Class project for the fall 2002 Orange Jacket new members, we decided that, in a time of escalating discussions about tolerance and inclusion on the UT campus, it was high time that women be represented in public space. High time that the contributions women have made to the campus and state be recognized visually. High time, then, that the first statue of a (named) woman grace the 40 Acres.
But who should that literally groundbreaking woman be? Our original list read like a who’s who of a fantasy dinner guest list: Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, etc. But in the end, we knew the statue needed to be of a woman who represented what was great about women leaders, this University, and the state of Texas. She needed to represent the pioneering spirit of the generation of women who came “first”; she needed to represent this University’s commitment to educating the state; she needed to embody Texas’s leadership and tradition of public service in the nation. She needed to be as not run-of-the-mill as was the idea to create a statue of her.
So Barbara Jordan quickly floated to the top of our list because of her career accomplishments on the University, state, and national levels. But almost as important was what she accomplished on a personal level: Renowned for her skills in oratory, her sense of humor, and her gift of teaching, Barbara Jordan truly touched people – her students, her fellow legislators and colleagues, and the poor, disadvantaged, and persecuted whom she constantly championed.
So it is this combination of admirable achievements and winning character that we hope to embody in our statue of Barbara Jordan. And in doing so, we hope to bring an important slice of history to the 40 Acres and to the state. So, on behalf of the Orange Jackets, I thank you for being here today and for joining us in celebrating what happens when an organization that isn’t run of the mill sets out to make a difference that isn’t run-of-the-mill on a campus that isn’t run of the mill in a state that isn’t run of the mill either. And who better to make that difference than Barbara Jordan, who too was anything but run of the mill.