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Barbara Jordan, 1936–1996

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Barbara Jordan

Throughout February, the Democrats will present an ongoing blog series celebrating African American heroes, both past and present. Staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America have been asked to write about influential African Americans in our country’s history and leaders who continue making contributions today.

 

Trailblazer and Texas legend, Barbara Jordan was a pioneering politician and a champion for civil and human rights. As a graduate of Texas Southern University, Jordan became an inspiration for alums of historically black colleges and universities, showing a generation of graduates that each of them could successfully compete and lead in any field.

In 1966 Barbara Jordan became the first African American elected to the Texas legislature since Reconstruction. During her Texas Senate tenure, she had many firsts, including becoming the first African American woman ever elected, the first African American to chair a major committee (Labor and Management Relations), the first freshman named to the Texas Legislative Council, and the first African American to serve as president pro tempore.

In 1972, Jordan became the first Southern African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, representing the newly drawn Texas 18th Congressional District. As a member of House of Representatives, she championed the causes that represented her life struggle, including African American issues and the plight of poor and disadvantaged communities.

Barbara Jordan rose to national prominence in 1974, when she made this powerful opening statement at the Nixon impeachment hearings:

My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.

I was only 7 years old during Watergate, and yet I vividly remember that moment. I was bitten by the political bug, and Barbara Jordan became my hero.

In 1976, Jordan became the first woman and the first African-American to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Her stirring remarks that day were groundbreaking—and paved the way for increased opportunity for women and people of color within our party. Many who heard that speech were inspired to become educators, activists, and organizers.

Thank you, Barbara Jordan. Your drive, determination, and dedication epitomize the very definition of a Democrat, and your contributions to our party and country are forever treasured.