What is Barbara Jordan known for?

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Black History in America

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan( (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was born into Houston, Texas Fifth Ward, a poverty-stricken area primarily black since the 1880s. Her father Benjamin was a Baptist preacher, and her mother Arlyne was active in the church as a women’s leader and teacher. Growing up in an era of segregation, Barbara could only attend black schools. The city of Houston neglected the Fifth Ward, providing substandard services – when they finally paved a road through the area, it stopped after three blocks from the Houston mayor’s house.

Barbara studied hard in school and graduated high school with honors. She wanted to attend the University of Texas but was not permitted, because she was black. Instead, she went to Texas Southern University, an all-black school at the time, where she majored in political science and led the debate team to victory over teams from Yale, Harvard, and Brown. In her high school years, she was inspired by Edith Sampson, first U. S. black delegate to the United Nations. Edith gave a speech at her school and fired Barbara’s imagination with the possibilities for young people in America. Edith conceded that blacks did not have equal rights, but that she “would rather be a Negro in America than a citizen in any other land”. Barbara decided to try schools in the north after graduating magna cum laude from Texas Southern. She applied to Boston University Law School, was accepted, and graduated in 1959.

Barbara was not one to accept limitations. She taught at Tuskeegee Institute, established her own law practice, and then turned to politics. Barbara campaigned for John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. She ran twice unsuccessfully for the Texas legislature. She didn’t give up. Finally, in 1966 Barbara Jordan became the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate. No black person had been in the Texas Senate since 1883. She served in the Senate for six years, rising to be the president pro-tem, and serving for a day as Governor of Texas. Fighting for the rights of the little people, Barbara helped establish the first Texas minimum wage law, as well as bills guaranteeing fair employment practices. Then she really made history, running for the United States House of Representatives – and won. She was the first woman of any race elected in her own right to represent Texas in the House.

“There is no obstacle in the path of young people who are poor or members of minority groups that hard work and preparation cannot cure.”

― Barbara Jordan

“Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.”

― Barbara Jordan

Barbara served on the House Judiciary and Banking committees and gave one of the first speeches in support of impeaching Richard Nixon. She co-sponsored a bill to allow the Smithsonian to acquire the Museum of African Art. An ardent proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, she did everything possible to see it pass – but it never did. As a Congresswoman, she was able to get extensions into the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect minorities, despite opposition from then-Governor Dolph Briscoe. Twice she gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National convention and was mentioned as a possible running mate for Jimmy Carter, though Walter Mondale eventually got the nod.

After sponsoring and co-sponsoring over 360 legislative bills during her time in Congress, Barbara retired from politics, to teach at the school that wouldn’t take her as an undergraduate – the University of Texas. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom and was considered as a possible Supreme Court justice.

Barbara died from complications of pneumonia and leukemia at the age of fifty-nine.

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