Barbara Jordan was born on February 21, 1936, in Houston, Texas. She grew up in one of the poorest, predominantly Black neighborhoods in Houston. Her parents often stressed the importance of education, encouraging young Barbara to achieve academic excellence. In high school, Jordan achieved that academic excellence and became a praised debater and orator.
After graduating from high school, Jordan attended Texas Southern University. She graduated in 1956 and then began studying at Boston University Law School. Upon earning her degree, Jordan moved back to Texas in order to form her own practice, which she began operating out of her parents’ home.
Jordan soon became involved with politics when she began campaigning for the Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. By 1962, Jordan was also campaigning for herself with her sights set on a spot with the Texas legislature. She would campaign two more times before winning a seat in 1966. She was the first Black woman to hold this position.
As part of the Texas legislature, Jordan implemented the state’s first law on minimum wage and she created the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. When she first joined the legislature, Jordan was met with resistance from her new colleagues. By 1972, however, she had been voted into the position of president pro tempore of the state senate. She became the first Black woman to hold this position as well.
Also in 1972, Jordan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and received national attention during the Watergate scandal. Symbolizing a moral compass for the U.S., Jordan called for then-President Richard Nixon’s impeachment since he had partaken in illegal political activities.
Jordan hoped that once Jimmy Carter had stepped in as president, she would be promoted to the position of attorney general. After Carter turned the position over to someone else, Jordan stated that she would not run for reelection for her position with the U.S. House of Representatives.
By 1979, Jordan served her last term. Many believed that she could have achieved much more as a politician but unbeknownst to most, Jordan had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She wrote the book, ‘Barbara Jordan: A Self-Portrait.’ She then began teaching at the University of Texas in Austin and served as the Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair of Public Policy in 1982.
While teaching, Jordan remained active in the public eye. She worked for Texas Governor Ann Richards and eventually worked with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. She then began experiencing complications due to her battle with leukemia. Barbara Jordan died of pneumonia on January 17, 1996, at the age of 60.
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