Barbara Charline Jordan, the first Black woman elected to the Texas Senate, was born February 21, 1936, the daughter of Benjamin and Arlyne Jordan. The youngest daughter of a Baptist minister, she lived with her two sisters in the Lyons Avenue area of Houston's Fifth Ward. The church played an important role in her life. She joined Good Hope on August 15, 1953, under the leadership of Reverend A.A. Lucas. Graduating with honors from Houston's Phillis Wheatley High School in the Houston Independent School District, Ms. Jordan went on to Texas Southern University where she majored in government and history.
While at TSU, Barbara Jordan was an active student, a member of the debate team for four years, and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. It was her involvement with the debate team that began for her a series of "firsts" that would become the hallmark of her professional life. Ms. Jordan was a member of the first debate team from a Black Univeristy to compete in the forensic tournament held annually at Baylor College. On that occaison she won first place in junior oratory -- one of many first place trophies in her career as a debater.
After graduating magna cum laude from TSU in 1956, she received her law degree from Boston University in 1959. Ultimately, she was the recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from 25 colleges and universities including Texas Southern University, Tuskegee Institute, Princeton University and Harvard University. Following her graduation, Barbara Jordan served as Adminstrative Assistant to the County Judge of Harris County (the first Black woman to hold that position) until her election to the Texas Senate in 1966. At the time, she was the first Black elected to the Senate since 1883. In 1972, she was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and, in the tradition of the Senate, served June 10, 1972 as Governor for a day -- the first Black woman governor in the history of the United States.
It was the overwhelming mandate of the constituents of the newly created 18th Congressional District of Texas, that Barbara Jordan would be their first representative in the U.S. House. Thus, she bacame the first Black Texan in the U.S. congress. As a member of the House, her reputation was that of a skilled politician and forceful and dynamic individual. She served as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the House committee on Government Operations and the Steering and Policy committee of the Demcratic Caucus.
In December 1977, the Congresswoman from the Texas 18th District chose not to seek reelection. For sixteen years, Ms. Jordan taught at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. For over thirty years, she actively contributed to the american dialogue, writing and speaking about the most critical issues that face Americans. In 1991, Ms. Jordan was appointed as Special Counsel for Ethics by Governor Ann Richards and in 1994 served as Chairwoman of the United States Commission on Immigration Reform. In 1994, President William Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award to a civilian in the country.
As a final measure of her lifelong commitment to her beloved Good Hope Baptist Church, on December 30, 1995, Ms. Jordan agreed to serve as Honorary Chair of the Hope for Families, Inc. Hope for familes is dedicated to rebuilding the community by rebuilding familes through innovative and creative programs designed to address the holistic needs of people in the greater Houston area. Hope for Families will serve as a continuation of the Good Hope legacy of service to the Fourth Ward community.
Barbara Jordan's stellar achivevements and influence spanned decades and moved beyond the Fifth Ward of Houston, to Texas, the nation, and even the world. Maintaining the public's confidence throughout her policitical career, she mesmerized the world during the Watergate Hearings as her stirring words reflected her ethics, moral conscience, and respect for the U.S. Constitution. She was a true patriot. According to her students, Ms. Jordan always carried a copy of the constitution in her purse. One of the nation's greatest orators, although ill in later years, her eloquence remained undiminished.
Though a bold and powerful voice for many, Barbara Jordan reflected humility throughout her life, never forgetting her beginnings. "We were poor, but so was everyone else around us, so we didn't notice it." Cognizant of the role that education played in her success, she made time to talk with and inspire students across the nation and especially those at the Barbara Jordan High School for Careers in Houston, Texas.
Barbara Jordan exemplified honor, dignity and integrity. Affectionately known as "B.J.," she epitomized the true meaning of friendship, loyalty and love. For those who knew her well, her sense of humor and warm laughter will long be remembered.
A dynamic leader, powerful politician, riveting orator, and pioneer for all, her impact transcended age, sex, and ethnicity. Barbara Jordan left timeless lessons of tenacity and perseverance for those who will follow in her footsteps for generations to come.
Our lives have been enriched by the life of Barbara Charline Jordan.