[Barbara Jordan], circa 1970s, PICB 17609
Born in 1936 in Houston, Barbara Jordan grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward where she attended segregated public schools. She graduated magna cum laude from Texas Southern University and then received a law degree from Boston University.
In 1960 she returned to Houston to practice law and started getting involved in politics by helping register black voters for the presidential election. She then decided to run for the Texas Legislature, but lost twice in 1962 and 1964. After redistricting in 1966, she finally won a seat and became Texas’ first black state senator since 1883. While in office she worked for minimum-wage laws and voter registration, and she chaired the Labor and Management Relations Committee. She won the respect of her white, male colleagues who unanimously voted her as president pro tempore of the Senate.
In 1972 Jordan won a seat in the U.S. House, becoming the first African American from Texas to have a seat in Congress. While in Congress she co-sponsored bills helping the elderly, children, the environment, teachers and the homeless. She became known for her effective oratory skills, especially after a speech in 1974 during the Watergate hearings in which she defended the Constitution and in 1976 when she delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
After three terms in Congress, Jordan returned to Austin. She became professor at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT where she taught courses on politics and ethics. In the early 1990s Jordan served as advisor to Ann Richards during her gubernatorial campaign. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. She died in 1996 and is buried in the State Cemetery in Austin.