Happy Birthday Barbara Jordan!!!

BJordanToday is the birthday of the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, Barbara Jordan.

A PK, (Preacher’s kid) Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas, on February 21, 1936. She was educated in the Houston public school system and later earned a B.A. from Texas Southern University and her law degree from Boston University in 1959. She began practicing law in Houston in 1960 and her political turning point occurred when she worked that year on the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign.

She eventually helped manage a highly organized get-out-the-vote program that served Houston’s 40 African-American precincts. In 1962 and 1964, Jordan ran for the Texas House of Representatives but lost both times, so in 1966 she ran for the Texas Senate when court-enforced redistricting created a constituency that consisted largely of minority voters. Jordan won, defeating a white liberal and becoming the first African-American state senator in the U.S. since 1883.

I have participated in this week’s activities at the University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs, where Barbara Jordan’s life and achievements are celebrated by students, faculty and friends during her birthday week. This week includes a host of panel discussions and presentations about her legacy, her life and the implications of her life for today.

While Jordan was a pioneer for women and for African Americans, she also captivated the nation with her intellect, her courage, her commanding use of language and her remarkable knowledge of history and the Constitution.

To avoid expected controversy and backlash from inviting a woman and an African American as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1976, the Democratic Party invited John Glenn to keynote too. Although John Glenn is a beloved national hero most don’t remember Glenn’s speech. After her historic keynote address she never ran for office again and spent 17 years teaching at the University of Texas.

Nestled on a hill in the Texas State Cemetery Barbara Jordan was the first African American to be buried there and etched on her headstone are the words “Teacher” and “Patriot”. She loved her country and she loved teaching. Her career was rooted in a simple value that should be a standard for anyone seeking public office—–She understood that the public’s trust should not be bargained, negotiated or sold. She dared public officials to do what you said you would do, “If we promise as public officials, we must deliver. If we as public officials propose, we must produce.”

Though Jordan died nearly 20 years ago, as a woman, African American and former elected official, I and so many others, owe her a debt of gratitude for her courage, her intellectual fortitude and her fearless fight for justice and equality. Happy Birthday!