Barbara Jordan, 1936-1996

  • Barbara-Jordan-WWP

Woman Category: Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: African-American Women, Austin Women, and Congresswoman

  • HerStory

    The first black Congresswoman from the Deep South, and the first African-American to be a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention.

    Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas, growing up on an unpaved street “in the biggest ghetto in the biggest state”. Jordan graduated with a B.A. from Texas Southern University and later received a law degree from Boston University. After two failed attempts running for the Texas House of Representatives, she won a seat at the 1966 Texas Senate, a first black woman in the position – among 30 white men.
    In 1972 she was the first black person elected to the National Congress from Texas since Reconstruction era, after the Civil War. She served only six years due to ill health and spent the rest of her life teaching at the University of Texas in Austin.
    Barbara Jordan was a great orator, and that skill gained her national recognition when addressing the Judiciary Committee in 1974 on national television – she spoke in praise of the constitution when calling on the impeachment of President Nixon after the Watergate scandal. Her talent for speaking in public made her the first woman and the first black keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention in 1976. While at the same time, her nature as a politician was that of a pragmatic negotiator, which led to criticism from black and feminist activists.
    In Jordan’s last public service position, she was appointed Head of the Commission on Immigration Reform, for which she had to travel to Mexico and the Dominican Republic in a wheelchair. She died at the age of 59 from pneumonia. In her death, she remains the “first and only” as a black woman buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

    “The most outspoken moral voice of the American political system” – Bill Clinton about her.

    “The most outspoken moral voice of the American political system” – Bill Clinton about her.

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was a good poker player and loved to drink whiskey.
    • She played the guitar and used to sing in after-hours gatherings of Austin politicians.
    • She was very private about her life, even in her autobiography. In some publications after her death, she was said never to have had a romantic partner, while in others she was said to have had a long secret relationship with her friend Nancy Earl.


  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books by Barbara Jordan
    * Books about her


    * Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Barbara Jordan: A Legislative Pioneer

    The Barbara Jordan Archives at Texas Southern University in Houston preserve the legacy of Barbara Jordan—the first African American senator elected after Reconstruction, the first African American woman to serve in the House of Representatives, and the first African American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery. This video was produced for our heritage travel app, Texas Time Travel Tours. The mobile app features statewide thematic tours focusing on a variety of time periods and cultures in Texas history. View the mobile tours or download the app at

  • Barbara Jordan, giving keynote address before the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City. Photo credit - Leffler, Warren K. @ Library of Congress.