Barbara Jordan

Barbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was an African American lawyer, educator,[1] and politician. A Democrat, she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives.[2] Jordan is known for her eloquent opening statement[3] at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the impeachment process against Richard Nixon. In 1976, she became the first African-American, and the first woman, to ever deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. She was the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.[4][5] Jordan is also known for her work as chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform.

Barbara Jordan
Rep. Barbara Jordan - Restoration.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 18th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Preceded byBob Price
Succeeded byMickey Leland
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 11th district
In office
January 10, 1967 – January 3, 1973
Preceded byBill Moore
Succeeded byChet Brooks
Personal details
Barbara Charline Jordan

(1936-02-21)February 21, 1936
Houston, Texas, U.S.
DiedJanuary 17, 1996(1996-01-17) (aged 59)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Domestic partnerNancy Earl (late 1960s–1996)
EducationTexas Southern University (BA)
Boston University (LLB)

Early lifeEdit

Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas's Fifth Ward.[2] Jordan's childhood was centered on church life. Her mother was Arlyne Patten Jordan, a teacher in the church,[1][6] and her father was Benjamin Jordan, a Baptist preacher. Through her mother, Jordan was the great-granddaughter of Edward Patton, who was one of the last African American members of the Texas House of Representatives prior to disenfranchisement of Black Texans under Jim Crow. Barbara Jordan was the youngest of three children,[1] with siblings Rose Mary Jordan McGowan and Bennie Jordan Creswell (1933–2000). Jordan attended Roberson Elementary School.[6] She graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1952 with honors.[1][6][7]

Jordan credited a speech she heard in her high school years by Edith S. Sampson with inspiring her to become an attorney.[8] Because of segregation, she could not attend The University of Texas at Austin and instead chose Texas Southern University, an historically black institution, majoring in political science and history. At Texas Southern University, Jordan was a national champion debater, defeating opponents from Yale and Brown, and tying Harvard University.[6] She graduated magna cum laude in 1956.[6][7] At Texas Southern University, she pledged Delta Gamma chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[6] She attended Boston University School of Law, graduating in 1959.[6][7]

Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year.[6] In 1960, she returned to Houston and started a private law practice.[6]

Political careerEdit

Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives.[9] She won a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African-American state senator in Texas since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body.[9] Re-elected to a full term in the Texas Senate in 1968, she served until 1972. She was the first African-American woman to serve as president pro tempore of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas.[10][11] Jordan was the first African-American woman to serve as governor of a state.[12] During her time in the Texas Legislature, Jordan sponsored or cosponsored some 70 bills.[13]

Barbara Jordan delivering the keynote address before the 1976 Democratic National Convention

In 1972, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first woman elected in her own right to represent Texas in the House. She received extensive support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who helped her secure a position on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1974, she made an influential televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, Johnson's successor as president.[14] In 1975, she was appointed by Carl Albert, then Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia,[9] became instead the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.[9] Despite not being a candidate, Jordan received one delegate vote (0.03%) for president at the Convention.[15]

In November 1977, Barbara Jordan spoke at the 1977 National Women's Conference. Other speakers included Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Bella Abzug, Audrey Colom, Claire Randall, Gerridee Wheeler, Cecilia Burciaga, Gloria Steinem, Lenore Hershey and Jean O'Leary.[16]

Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became an adjunct professor teaching ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. She was again a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.

In 1994, Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the NAACP presented her with the Spingarn Medal.[1] She was honored many times and was given over 20 honorary degrees from institutions across the country, including Harvard and Princeton, and was elected to the Texas and National Women's Halls of Fame.[1]

Statement on the Articles of ImpeachmentEdit

Representative Barbara Jordan (left) became nationally known for her eloquence during the Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings.

On July 25, 1974, Jordan delivered a 15-minute televised speech in front of the members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.[17] She presented an opening speech during the hearings that were part of the impeachment process against Richard Nixon.[17] This speech is thought to be one of the greatest speeches of 20th-century American history.[18] Throughout her speech, Jordan strongly stood by the Constitution of the United States. She defended the checks and balances system, which was set in place to inhibit any politician from abusing their power.[17] Jordan never flat out said that she wanted Nixon impeached, but rather subtly and cleverly implied her thoughts.[19] She simply stated facts that proved Nixon to be untrustworthy and heavily involved in illegal situations,[19] and quoted the drafters of the Constitution to argue that actions like Nixon's during the scandal corresponded with their understanding of impeachable offenses.[20] She protested that the Watergate scandal will forever ruin the trust American citizens have for their government.[19] This powerful and influential statement earned Jordan national praise for her rhetoric, morals, and wisdom.[17]


Jordan supported the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, legislation that required banks to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities. She supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and expansion of that act to cover language minorities; this extended protection to Hispanics in Texas and was opposed by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe and Secretary of State Mark White. She also authored an act that ended federal authorization of price fixing by manufacturers. Jordan was also a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment and issued a statement in support of extending the deadline in 1979.[21] During Jordan's tenure as a Congresswoman, she sponsored or cosponsored over 300 bills or resolutions, several of which are still in effect today as law.[13]

U.S. Commission on Immigration ReformEdit

From 1994 until her death, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. The commission recommended that total immigration be cut by one-third to approximately 550,000 per year. The commission supported increasing enforcement against undocumented migrants and their employers, eliminating visa preferences for siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens, and ending unskilled immigration except for refugees and nuclear families. The commission's report to Congress said that it was "a right and responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest", concluded that "legal immigration has strengthened and can continue to strengthen this country" and "decrie[d] hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the country." The commission recommended that the United States reduce the number of refugees admitted annually to a floor of 50,000 (this level would be lifted during emergencies).[22][23][24][25]

The recommendations made by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform under Jordan's leadership are frequently cited by American immigration restrictionists.[26][27]

Personal lifeEdit

The U.S. National Archives described Barbara Jordan as the first LGBTQ+ woman in Congress.[28] Jordan's partner of approximately twenty years was Nancy Earl,[29] an educational psychologist who met Jordan on a camping trip in the late 1960s.[7][9] Earl was an occasional speechwriter for Jordan,[30] and later cared for her when she developed multiple sclerosis in 1973.[31] While the Houston Chronicle obituary of Jordan identified Earl as her "longtime companion",[32] and while other sources have stated that Earl was Jordan's same-sex partner,[32][33][31][7][9] neither woman is known to have publicly stated that the two had a romantic relationship.[33][34][9]

In the KUT-FM radio documentary Rediscovering Barbara Jordan, President Bill Clinton said that he had wanted to nominate Jordan for the United States Supreme Court, but by the time he could do so, Jordan's health problems prevented him from nominating her.[35]

On July 31, 1988, Jordan nearly drowned in her backyard swimming pool while doing physical therapy, but she was saved by Earl, who found her floating in the pool and revived her.[36]

Death and burialEdit

Jordan died at the age of 59 of complications from pneumonia on January 17, 1996, in Austin, Texas. She also had leukemia.[37]

She was interred in Texas State Cemetery.[38] She was the first African American to receive this honor, and previously advocated African Americans to be buried in the state cemetery when she served in the Texas State Senate.[39] Jordan's grave rests near that of the "Father of Texas" Stephen F. Austin.[39]

Recognition and legacyEdit

Jordan's 1974 statement on the articles of impeachment (regarding President Richard Nixon) was listed as #13 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).[42][43]

Jordan's 1976 Democratic National Convention keynote address, the first major convention keynote speech ever by a woman and the first by an African American, was listed as #5 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).[42]

Jordan was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1978 to 1980.[44][better source needed]


The main terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is named after Jordan. The airport also features a statue of Jordan by artist Bruce Wolfe.[citation needed]

A boulevard in central Austin is named after Jordan. Several schools bear her name, including elementary schools in Dallas, Texas, Odessa, Texas, and Austin, Texas, Barbara Jordan Early College Prep School, an elementary school in Richmond, Texas, Barbara C. Jordan Intermediate School, a middle school in Cibolo, Texas, Barbara Jordan High School in Houston, and The Barbara Jordan Institute for Policy Research at her undergraduate alma mater Texas Southern University. There is also a park named after Jordan in Needville, Texas (The Barbara Jordan Park).[citation needed]

The Kaiser Family Foundation operates the Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars, a fellowship designed for people of color who are college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates as a summer experience working in a congressional office.[citation needed]


An elementary school in University City School District is named after her, Barbara C. Jordan Elementary in University City, Missouri.[citation needed]

Other honorsEdit

In 2000, the Jordan/Rustin Coalition (JRC) was created,[45] honoring Jordan and Bayard Rustin, a leader in the civil rights movement and close confidante of Martin Luther King Jr. The organization mobilized gay and lesbian African Americans to aid in the passage of marriage equality in the state of California. According to its website, "the mission [of the JRC] is to empower Black same-gender loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families in Greater Los Angeles, to promote equal marriage rights and to advocate for fair treatment of everyone without regard to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."

On March 27, 2000, a play based on Jordan's life premiered at the Victory Garden Theater in Chicago, Illinois.[46] Titled, Voice of Good Hope, Kristine Thatcher's biographical evocation of Jordan's life played in theaters from San Francisco to New York.[47]

On April 24, 2009, a statue of Barbara Jordan was unveiled at the University of Texas at Austin, where Jordan taught at the time of her death. The Barbara Jordan statue campaign was paid for by a student fee increase approved by the University of Texas Board of Regents. The effort was originally spearheaded by the 2002–2003 Tappee class of the Texas Orange Jackets, the "oldest women's organization at the University" (of Texas at Austin).[48]

In 2011, the Barbara Jordan Forever Stamp was issued. It is the 34th stamp in the Black Heritage series of U.S. stamps.[49]

In 2012, Jordan was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[50]

The Barbara Jordan Media Awards are given annually to media professionals and students who "have produced material for the public which accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities, using People First language and respectful depictions".[51]

The Barbara Jordan Public-Private Leadership Award is presented by Texas Southern University's School of Public Affairs and School of Law. Its first recipient was former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on June 4, 2015.[52]

The former sorting facility in downtown Houston was renamed the Barbara Jordan Post Office.[53]

In the years following Jordan's passing, more African Americans would receive the honor of being buried in the Texas State Cemetery as well, including musical artists James Henry Cotton and Barbara Smith Conrad.[54]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Finkelman, Paul (2009). Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-First Century. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 59–61. ISBN 978-0-19-516779-5.
  2. ^ a b Clines, Francis X. (January 18, 1996). "Barbara Jordan Dies at 59; Her Voice Stirred the Nation". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  3. ^ "JORDAN, Barbara Charline | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  4. ^ "Barbara Jordan". Humanities Texas. Retrieved February 18, 2016. ... When she died, in 1996, her burial in the Texas State Cemetery marked yet another first: she was the first black woman interred there.
  5. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 24267). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Barbara Jordan". Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved 2009-05-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) at
  7. ^ a b c d e "Profile: Barbara Jordan (1936–1996)". Archived from the original on November 14, 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) at Human Rights Campaign
  8. ^ Ross, Irwin (February 1977). "Barbara Jordan-New Voice in Washington". The Reader's Digest: 148–152.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Stateswoman Barbara Jordan – A Closeted Lesbian". Planet Out. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  10. ^ "Black Woman in Texas Is Governor for a Day (Published 1972)". The New York Times. June 11, 1972. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  11. ^ "Today in Texas History: Governor Barbara Jordan?". Texas on the Potomac. June 10, 2010. Archived from the original on May 28, 2018. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  12. ^ "WFAA Academy: Houston's Barbara Jordan became the first black woman elected into the Texas State Senate". May 20, 2020.
  13. ^ a b Barbara Jordan Papers, Special Collections, Texas Southern University, October 15, 2015.
  14. ^ "Barbara C. Jordan". 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
  15. ^ "Our Campaigns – US President – D Convention Race – Jul 12, 1976". Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  16. ^ "1977 National Women's Conference: A Question of Choices," 1977-11-21, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting
  17. ^ a b c d "Barbara C. Jordan Profile", The History Channel, A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1996–2013. Accessed October 5, 2013.
  18. ^ "American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches", American Rhetoric Website, 2001–2013. Accessed 5 October 2013.
  19. ^ a b c "Mr. Newman's Digital Rhetorical Symposium: Barbara Jordan: Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, Newman Rhetoric Blogging Website, 2010. Accessed 5 October 2013.
  20. ^ "Statement on the Articles of Impeachment". American Historic. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  21. ^ "A statement by Representative Barbara Jordan on May 18, 1978, requesting an extension of the 1979 deadline for ERA ratification". Digital Public Library of America. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  22. ^ Seales, Chance (January 30, 2018). "Dems Weren't Always Pro-immigration – Just Ask The Jordan Commission". Newsy.
  23. ^ "Trump's Misuse of Barbara Jordan's Legacy on Immigration – The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS)". The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS). Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  24. ^ Pear, Robert (June 8, 1995). "Clinton Embraces a Proposal To Cut Immigration by a Third". The New York Times.
  25. ^ Chang, Howard Fenghau (1998). Migration as international trade: the economic gains from the liberalized movement of labor. University of Southern California Law School.
  26. ^ "Why does a NumbersUSA ad include a clip from 1995?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  27. ^ "Was Barbara Jordan a 'White Nationalist'? | National Review". National Review. August 3, 2017. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  28. ^ Bartgis, Rachel (June 10, 2021). Kratz, Jessie (ed.). "LGBTQ+ History Month: Barbara Jordan". Pieces of History. U.S. National Archives. Archived from the original on July 1, 2021.
  29. ^ Smith, Clay (February 12, 1999). "Two Bios of Barbara". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  30. ^ Elliott, Amber (December 13, 2020). "Congresswoman Barbara Jordan broke down barriers for Black Texans, women". Houston Chronicle.
  31. ^ a b "Barbara Jordan Biography". Barbara Jordan Biography.
  32. ^ a b Marie, Sondra Rose (October 23, 2020). "LGBTQ History: Barbara Jordan".
  33. ^ a b Tungol, J. R. (October 20, 2012). "LGBT History Month Icon Of The Day: Barbara Jordan". HuffPost.
  34. ^ "Two Bios of Barbara".
  35. ^ Transcript of Rediscovering Barbara Jordan Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine,, February 8, 2006. Retrieved November 4, 2006.
  36. ^ "Barbara Jordan is hospitalized". July 31, 1988. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  37. ^ Clines, Francis X. (January 18, 1996). "Barbara Jordan dies at 59". Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  38. ^ "Barbara Charline Jordan". Texas State Cemetery. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  39. ^ a b "Barbara Jordan Remembered". Texas Highway Magazine. August 12, 2012. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  40. ^ "NAACP Spingarn Medal". Archived from the original on August 2, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  41. ^ "Barbara Jordan Sylvanus Thayer Award". August 12, 2012. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  42. ^ a b Michael E. Eidenmuller (February 13, 2009). "Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century by Rank". American Rhetoric. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  43. ^ Michael E. Eidenmuller (July 25, 1974). "Barbara Jordan – Statement on House Judiciary Proceedings to Impeach President Richard Nixon". American Rhetoric. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  44. ^ "George Foster Peabody Awards Board Members". Archived from the original on March 30, 2019. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  45. ^ "Jordan/Rustin Coalition". September 20, 2010. Archived from the original on October 2, 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  46. ^ Thatcher, Kristine (2004). Voice of Good Hope. Dramatists Play Service, Inc. ISBN 0-8222-1960-3.
  47. ^ Siegel, Naomi. "THEATER REVIEW; She Had a Voice That Resonates Still", The New York Times, November 24, 2002. Retrieved November 20, 2008.
  48. ^ Sanders, Joshunda (April 20, 2009). "Jordan's statue to grace UT campus: Dedication of Barbara Jordan statue on Friday will include a weeklong celebration". Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  49. ^ "Stamp honors political trailblazer Barbara Jordan". ABC13 Houston. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  50. ^ Victor Salvo // The Legacy Project. "2012 INDUCTEES". Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  51. ^ "Barbara Jordan Media Awards – Office of the Texas Governor – Greg Abbott".
  52. ^ "Houston Forward Times".
  53. ^ de Luna, Marcy (September 20, 2016). "Developer has mega mixed-use plans for defunct downtown post office, call it Post HTX". Culture Map Houston. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  54. ^ Barnes, Michael (June 7, 2021). "Texas History: The Texas State Cemetery shapes its identity for 21st century". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved December 3, 2021.

Further readingEdit

Rogers, Mary Beth. 1998. Barbara Jordan: American hero.

External linksEdit

Texas Senate
Preceded by Member of the Texas Senate
from the 11th district

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 18th congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Served alongside: John Glenn
Succeeded by
Preceded by Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Served alongside: Bill Bradley, Zell Miller
Succeeded by