As Women's History Month draws to a close tomorrow, our celebration of badass women from throughout history wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to the monumental life of the groundbreaking African-American politician Barbara Jordan.
(image via Getty Images)
Jordan, who was born February 21st, 1936, grew in a poor black neighborhood in Houston, Texas. Despite her surrounding circumstances, Jordan's parents consistently encouraged her to obtain a good education and to strive for the best. In high school, Jordan became highly skilled in speech and debate and won numerous awards for her efforts; her skill ultimately landed her an admission to Texas Southern University, where she graduated from in 1956.
From there, Jordan decided to pursue a career in law. She attended Boston University Law School, where she was one of only a few black students attending the university. But she took the challenge head-on and thrived. After obtaining her degree, Jordan returned to Texas, where she set up her first law office within her parents’ home. In 1960, she became involved in campaigning for the Democratic presidential ticket of John F. Kennedy and Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, where she assisted in organizing a get-out-the-vote program which served 40 African-American precincts within Houston.
In 1962, Jordan made her first go at public office, lobbying for a spot in the Texas legislature. She lost that race but refused to give up, and 1966--on her third try--Jordan won her seat, making history as the first black individual to become a State Senator. Although at the beginning she encountered resistance from her white male colleagues, Jordan stood strong in her intentions and made it clear that her primary focus was to improve the quality of life for all Americans.
Jordan made her presence known in the Texas legislature: she was responsible for pushing through the state's first law on minimum wage and put in place the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. In 1972, she made history once more upon being elected President Pro Tempore of the State Senate.
That same year, Jordan won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. As the Watergate scandal took off, Jordan found herself in the spotlight as one of the key political figures demanding the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon and taking a public stand against his illegal and destructive actions. In one televised speech during the proceedings, Jordan set the tone for the nation: "I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution."
During her days in Congress, Jordan pushed to extend the federal protection of civil rights for all Americans, and in 1975 she stood with Congress as they voted to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, broadening it to include Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. As if that wasn’t enough, in 1976 she became the first woman and first African-American to became the keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention, where she addressed the issue of equality and the need for progression. “We are a people in search of a national community,” she told the delegates, “attempting to fulfill our national purpose: to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal. We cannot improve on the system of government handed down to us by the founders of the Republic, but we can find new ways to implement that system and to realize our destiny.”
In her later years, with the desire to educate future politicians, Jordan accepted a professorship at the University of Texas. In 1982 she was appointed as Centennial Chair of Public Policy by Lyndon B. Johnson and served on a special ethics counsel for Texas Governor Ann Richards in 1991. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Jordan as the head of the Commission on Immigration Reform; that same year, he honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "Barbara always stirred our national conscience." said President Clinton in perhaps the understatement of the century.
Before her death on January 17th, 1996, Jordan received over a dozen honorary degrees and was honored in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca, New York. "There was simply something about her that made you proud to be a part of the country that produced her," said former Texas governor Ann Richards. Although the nation mourned her death, her legacy has continued to live on through her empathy and commitment to the American people. She was truly an inspiration.
(image via houstonmatters.org)
“We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of America can one day be finally closed. We believe that.” - Barbara Jordan
(header image via austinschools.org)