Barbara Jordon: Everlasting Legacy
by Martha Rogers
Last month I wrote about a woman of wealth with an unusual name who worked tirelessly to bring history alive for Texans. Another woman who grew up in Houston became a powerful speaker for the people she represented and the state she loved. Barbara Jordan was born in the Fifth Ward on February 21, 1936 and and grew up to become one of the best known women not only in the city of Houston, but also the state of Texas.
Her parents, Arlynne and Benjamin Jordan, a Baptist pastor, made sure Barbara and her two sisters had a good spiritual foundation. Barbara, Rose Mary and Bennie, grew up in the fifth ward. Her sister wrote that their childhood was really no different that of other children. They walked to school together, played games like jump rope and marbles. Barbara was the first to learn to ride a bicycle and taught herself how to play the guitar.
Barbara loved to read which became an asset when she joined the debate team at Phyliss Wheatley High School. That's when her public speaking skills took flight and empowered her throughout her political career. Serious reading and research preceded each debate. She honed her speaking skills and gained experience at her church, Good Hope Baptist.
A picture of Barbara with her parents and sisters.
After graduating with honors from Wheatley, Jordan continued her studies at Texas Southern University. She continued to thrive and shine in debate with majors in political science and history. Her achievements there included being a national championship debater and member of Delta Sigma Theta, and graduating magma cum laude in 1956. From there she headed off to Boston University School of Law. After graduation, she taught political science for a year at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1960, she returned to Houston to start her own private law practice.
Her ability as a speaker and her knowledge of law led her to seek public office at the call of friends and colleagues. Jordan answered--ready for the challenge. Her first two campaigns to run for the Texas House of Representatives did not go well, but she did not give up. The third time proved to be the charm, and in 1966 she won a seat in the Texas Senate and became the first black woman of African-American descent to do so since 1883, in the post-Reconstruction era. She even served Texas as governor for the day on June 10, 1972. That same year, she became the first Black woman from the South elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
It didn't take long for Barbara to make an impact in congress. She became famous for her powerful speeches. She earned the support of Lyndon B. Johnsonand his help landed her a position on the House Judiciary Committee. She made the opening statement for the Committee's impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon. That speech became regarded as one of the best speeches of all time. Two years later, she delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National
Convention. She was the first African-American to do so.
By 1973, the physical effects of her multiple sclerosis began to show, and she began using a wheel chair to get around. She became quite sensitive about using the chair in public and not many years later, she retired from public office.
But Barbara was not done serving. She joined the faculty as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas. She also served on the Board of the Peabody Awards, and Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1994. In that year she also chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and served until her death.
Barbara became ill with leukemia and it claimed her life with pneumonia related
complications on January 17, 1996. She is the first black woman to be buried at the Texas State Cemetery.
Death did not stop the accolades and government, educational, and local groups honored her by naming schools, post offices, and housing complexes among others in her memory.
She is well known for her words about our country and its government. Although spoken many years ago, this one could be used to address us today.
"If society today allows wrong to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority."
A school named in her honor:
One of the most impressive images I have seen of Barbara Jordan is a bronze statue at the airport in Austin, Texas. It's a beautiful expression of the woman and statesperson she was. She is shown with a book in her lap, glasses on top, and her hands together with an expression of deep contemplation on her face.
Another statue sits on the Austin campus of the University of Houston. The oldest women's organization at the university, Texas Orange Jackets, spearheaded the project.
One reason I became so interested in Barbara Jordan is that she and I were born the same year. I was amazed at her accomplishments despite the setbacks that came her way. I was privileged to be in her presence in the eighties, and one thing that impressed me was her beautiful smile and the confidence in her voice.
Many women have overcome the obstacles of their gender and have successful careers in government and business. Is there one you particularly admire?
Martha's newest release:
While Abby and her friends are
practicing their sign language skills, they inadvertently overhear two men
discussing a crime they are planning. Once again Abigail Billings becomes
involved in uncovering the scheme despite warnings from
the local police, the
FBI, and anonymous threats in the mail. This time she may end up as the victim
of a crime rather than the victor despite the efforts of her friends, Ben and
Harry to protect her. Join Abby and her friends as they seek to unravel a plot
that is bigger than even they can imagine.
Rogers is a free-lance writer and multi-published best-selling author from
Realms Fiction of Charisma Media and Winged Publications. She was named Writer
of the Year at the Texas Christian Writers Conference in 2009. She is a member
of ACFW and writes the weekly Verse of the Week for the ACFW Loop. ACFW awarded
her the Volunteer of the Year in 2014. Her first electronic series from Winged
Publications, Love in the Bayou City of
Texas, debuted in the spring of 2015. Martha is a frequent speaker for writing
workshops and the Texas Christian Writers Conference of which she is a
director. She is a retired teacher and lives in Houston with her husband, Rex.
Their favorite pastime is spending time with their twelve grandchildren and six
Thanks for the post! Offhand, a businesswoman or politician that particularly intrigues me doesn't come to mind, except that I admire Barbara Bush who was both wife and mother to presidents. I think that's quite an achievement!ReplyDelete
Yes, it was. I admired her as well. Thanks for dropping by.ReplyDelete