The Keynote Speaker

An Exhibition of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Barabara Jordan (1976-09) by Robert Stiles Photograph Collection, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Genius, eloquent, a force of nature. These are words that have been used to describe one of the preeminent women of the 20th century.  Barbara Jordan's commitment to the advancement of social justice solidified her in the pantheon of political figures in American history.

Barbara Jordan (1946/1950) by MSS080 Barbara Jordan Family Collection/African American Library at The Gregory School, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

Jewel of the Fifth Ward

Barbara Charline Jordan was the youngest of three daughters born to Pastor Benjamin Jordan and Arylne Patton Jordan in Houston, Texas’s historical Fifth Ward.  

Barbara Jordan with her Parents (1972) by MSS080 Barbara Jordan Family Collection/African American Library at The Gregory School, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

Being raised by an educator and a preacher, Jordan honed her public speaking skills through speaking engagements at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church and as a student at Roberson Elementary School. 

Young Barbara Jordan with her sisters (1950/1960) by MSS080 Barbara Jordan Family Collection/African American Library at The Gregory School, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

Jordan would later attend Phillis Wheatley High where she would become a superb debater.   Before graduating Wheatley High with honors, she would also win a national debate contest in 1952.  

Barbara Jordan with Mother and Sisters (1972-06-10) by MSS080 Barbara Jordan Family Collection/African American Library at The Gregory School, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

After graduating from high school, Jordan attended Texas Southern University where she majored in political science and history.   Just as she did in high school, Jordan gained accolades for her debating skills at Texas Southern by winning against teams at Yale and Brown Universities.

Barbara Jordan with her Sisters (1970/1972) by MSS080 Barbara Jordan Family Collection/African American Library at The Gregory School, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

Jordan would go on to teach at Tuskegee University and go back home to Houston to start her private law firm.  Jordan’s political career gained traction when she worked on the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign in 1960.  Jordan played an essential role in organizing the get-out-the-vote program in Houston’s predominantly Black voting precincts.

Barbara Jordan delivering a speech in Galveston Texas (1967/1972) by MSS0146 Rev. M.L. Price Papers 1920s-1980s/Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

Making History in Austin

After two unsuccessful runs for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and 1964, Jordan was victorious in her run for the Texas Senate in 1966, making her the first African American Texas senator since 1883 and the first Black woman to serve in the seat. 

Barbara Jordan sitting at her desk on the Texas State Senate Floor (1967/1972) by MSS080 Barbara Jordan Family Collection/African American Library at The Gregory School, Houston Public LibraryU.S. National Archives

While in the Texas State Legislature, Jordan worked diligently to establish a minimum wage law in Texas.  Jordan also crusaded for civil rights for all by working to abolish discriminatory statements in business contracts, and create a Fair Employment Practices Commission.  

Barbara Jordan, Lady Bird Johnson (1976-10-18) by LBJ-POSTPRES, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

On March 28, 1972, Jordan was elected as president pro tempore of the Texas Senate, making her the first Black woman in the United States to oversee a legislative body.  As president pro tempore, one of Jordan’s duties was to serve as acting governor when necessary. This opportunity came on June 10, 1972, making her the first African American to serve as governor since Reconstruction.

Barbara Jordan, Vernon Jordan, and President Lyndon B. Johnson (1972-12-12) by LBJ-POSTPRES, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Jordan Goes to Washington

Jordan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming 81 percent of the vote in 1972, making her, along with Andrew Young, the first African Americans elected to Congress from the South in the twentieth century.

Meeting with Civil Rights leaders. (1967-02-13) by LBJ Library photo by Yoichi OkamotoU.S. National Archives

As a U.S. congresswoman, Jordan was strategic in positioning herself on committees where she could have the most impact for her constituents and community.  With the support of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, Jordan secured a place on the House Judiciary Committee.

Rufus Cormier Discusses Barbara Jordan and the House Committee on the Judiciary, Nixon Presidential Library, U.S. National Archives

Barbara Jordan's Corrections to the Transcript of Her Statement on Impeachment (1975-09-12) by Record Group 233, U.S. National ArchivesOriginal Source: NAID 4411374

Magnum Opus

 In 1974, as a freshmen member of the House Judiciary Committee, Jordan gave a speech during President Nixon’s impeachment proceedings that cemented her legacy in American politics.  Jordan’s opening remarks during the proceedings sent shock waves through the country.   

Excerpt of Barbara Jordan's opening remarks at President Richard Nixon's Impeachment hearings.  Excerpt is taken from Jordan's Keynote Address introduction at the 1976 Democratic Convention, July 12, 1976.

President Gerald R. Ford and Representative Barbara Jordan (1975-08-06) by White House Photographic Office, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Political Mastery

Jordan continued her work in Congress pushing the agenda of Civil Rights protections for all Americans.  Jordan led the effort to protect Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian Americans with the expansion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was signed into law by President Gerald R. Ford on August 6, 1975.

Letter from Nolvert P. Scott, Jr., PHD (1975-11-13) by White House Central Files, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Letter from Nolvert P. Scott, Jr., PHD, to First Lady Betty Ford recommending that Representative Barbara Jordan be nominated to the Supreme Court, November 13, 1975.   In addition to letters regarding a Supreme Court nomination, President Ford also received letters from the public asking him to nominate Representative Jordan to be his Vice President (in 1974) and Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations.

Crowning Moment

In 1976 Jordan was invited to bring a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York, making her the first African American woman keynote speaker at the convention.

Barbara Jordan speaking at the National Women's Conference (1977-11-09) by White House Staff Photograph Collection, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

In 1977, Jordan was a speaker at the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas.  Jordan was among many leaders that participated in this pivotal turning point for Women's Rights in America.

Portrait of Barbara Jordan (1986-05-07) by LBJ-POSTPRES, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and went on to become a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.  

President Bill Clinton and Barbara Jordan at Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony (1994-08-08) by White House Photograph Office, William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library, U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Medal of Freedom

In 1994 Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In his recognition of Jordan, President Bill Clinton said, “ [Jordan] has captured the nation's attention and awakened its conscience in defense of our constitution, the American Dream, and the commonality we share as American citizens.”


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