Rep. Barbara C. Jordan is best remembered for her defense of the Constitution during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon in 1974. Jordan’s involvement in the House Judiciary Committee and the hearings that resulted in the impeachment of President Richard Nixon heightened her reputation as a national leader. However, Jordan’s political career spans several decades and includes service in the Texas Senate, the House of Representatives and as a presidential and gubernatorial adviser. Jordan’s career demonstrates her commitment to fairness and to legislation that protects the under-served and underrepresented populations of the United States.
Barbara C. Jordan was born on February 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas. Following her graduation from Texas Southern University in 1956, Jordan went on to Boston University Law School where she graduated in 1959. Jordan’s political involvement began in 1960 when she became active in the Kennedy/Johnson presidential campaign. Six years later, in 1966, Jordan became the first African American woman to be elected to the Texas State Senate where she served from 1966 to 1972.
Jordan’s tenure in the Texas Senate was notable. She was the first African American to chair a majority committee, Labor and Management Relations in the Texas Senate. As a senator, she sponsored the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which increased the maximum benefits paid to injured workers. In March 1972, the Texas Legislature unanimously elected Jordan president pro tempore. In June of that same year, she was named Governor of Texas for a day.
Rep. Jordan’s Congressional career began in 1972 with her election as a representative of Houston’s 18th Ward in the United States House of Representatives. Congresswoman Jordan served as a representative from January 3, 1973 to January 3, 1979 (93rd-95th Congresses). She was the first African-American person to represent Texas and the first African American woman to represent a southern state in the United States House of Representatives. Her committee assignments included the Judiciary and Government Operations Committees. In 1974, Jordan served on the influential House Judiciary Committee
during the Nixon impeachment hearings. As a result of her landmark statements in defense of the Constitution, the American public recognized her legislative leadership. Jordan’s leadership in Congress included her sponsorship of legislation to renew and expand the Voting Rights Act and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 as well as legislation that required banks to lend and make services available to under-served poor and minority communities.
In 1976, Barbara Jordan became the first woman and first African American to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. In 1979, she retired from her career as a public servant and returned to Texas as a full professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Although retired, she remained heavily involved in politics. In 1987, she spoke out against the Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. In 1992, she was asked to be the keynote speaker again at the Democratic National Convention. Jordan also chaired a congressional commission that advocated increased restriction of immigration and increased penalties on employers that violated US immigration regulations in 1995.
Rep. Barbara Jordan was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the early 1970s. On January 17, 1996, she died of complications from pneumonia. Jordan lay in state at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin for a public goodbye. Her papers are housed in the Barbara Jordan Archives at her alma mater, Texas Southern University.