As an elected official, Barbara Jordan accomplished many firsts

She was the first African American to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction (1966-72), the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress from the South (1972-1978), and the first to deliver the keynote address at a national party convention (the Democratic Convention in 1976; she spoke at the convention again in 1992).

Her riveting appearance in the Watergate hearings in 1974 helped revitalize many Americans’ belief in the strength of the U.S. Constitution.
During her years in Congress, Jordan sponsored or cosponsored more than three hundred bills, of which twelve are now federal law.

Major bills introduced by Jordan include:

  • The extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1975
  • The Consumer Goods Pricing Act
  • The Antitrust Parens Patriae Act
  • Amendment of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968
  • The National Emergencies Act

Jordan was also responsible for passing landmark legislation in the Texas Senate concerning minimum wage, workman’s compensation, healthcare and insurance, and rights for the disabled.

Courtesy of Gary Chaffee, Archivist, Texas Southern University


“Education remains the key to both economic and political empowerment.”

From 1979 until her death in 1996, Jordan served as a distinguished professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) School at the University of Texas at Austin, holding the LBJ Centennial Chair in National Policy. During this time, she also served as ethics counsel to Governor Ann Richards. She authored Teaching Tolerance, a resource for teachers, across the nation.

“Ethical behavior means being honest, telling the truth, and doing what you said you were going to do,” she said.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest award to a civilian, by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Learn more about Barbara and the UT Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs

"We are a people in search of a national community"

From her first days in Congress, Jordan encouraged colleagues to extend the federal protection of civil rights to more Americans. She introduced civil rights amendments to legislation authorizing law enforcement assistance grants and joined seven other members on the Judiciary Committee in opposing Gerald R. Ford’s nomination as Vice President, citing a mediocre civil rights record. In 1975, when Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Jordan sponsored legislation that broadened the provisions of the act to include Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. Although she voted for busing to enforce racial desegregation in public schools, she was one of the few African-American Members of Congress to question the utility of the policy.

Jordan’s talent as a speaker continued to contribute to her national profile. In 1976 she became the first woman and the first African-American keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. Appearing after a subdued speech by Ohio Senator John Herschel Glenn Jr., Jordan energized the convention with her oratory. “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.” Amid the historical perspective of the national bicentennial, and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate, Jordan’s message, like her commanding voice, resonated with Americans.

(Source: history.house.gov)


“I am neither a black politician nor a woman politician,” Jordan said in 1975. “Just a politician, a professional politician.”

In both her Texas legislative career and in the U.S. House, Jordan made the conscious decision to pursue power within the established system. One of her first moves in Congress was to establish relationships with Members of the Texas delegation, which had strong institutional connections. Her attention to influence inside the House was demonstrated by where she sat in the House Chamber’s large, theater-style seating arrangement. CBC members traditionally sat to the far left of the chamber, but Jordan chose to sit near the center aisle because she could hear better, be seen by the presiding officer, and save an open seat for colleagues who wanted to stop and chat. Her seating preference as well as her loyalty to the Texas delegation agitated fellow CBC members, but both were consistent with Jordan’s model of seeking congressional influence.

Jordan also believed that an important committee assignment, one where she would be a trailblazer because of her gender and race, would magnify her influence. Thus, she disregarded suggestions that she accept a seat on the Education and Labor Committee and used her connection with Texan Lyndon B. Johnson—she had been his guest at the White House during her time as a state legislator—to secure a plum committee assignment on the Judiciary Committee. Securing former President Johnson’s intercession with Wilbur Daigh Mills of Arkansas, the chairman of the Committee on Committees, she landed a seat on the Judiciary Committee, where she served for her three terms in the House. In the 94th and 95th Congresses (1975–1979), she was also assigned to the Committee on Government Operations.

It was as a freshman Member of the Judiciary Committee, however, that Jordan earned national recognition. In the summer of 1974, as the committee considered articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon for crimes associated with the Watergate Scandal, Jordan delivered opening remarks that shook the committee room and the large television audience that had tuned in to the proceedings. “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total,” Jordan said. “I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” She then explained the reasoning behind her support of each of the five articles of impeachment against President Nixon. In conclusion, Jordan said that if her fellow committee members did not find the evidence compelling enough, “then perhaps the eighteenth-century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth-century paper shredder.” Reaction to Jordan’s statement was overwhelming. Jordan recalled that people swarmed around her car after the hearings to congratulate her, and many people sent the Texas Representative letters of praise. One person even posted a message on a series of billboards in Houston: “Thank you, Barbara Jordan, for explaining the Constitution to us.” The Watergate impeachment hearings helped create Jordan’s reputation as a respected national politician.

(Source: history.house.gov)

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Visit Barbara's Timeline & Virtual Exhibit


Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1976, part 1

Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1976, part 2

Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1976, part 3

Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1992, part 1

Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1992, part 2

Barbara Jordan, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech, 1992, part 3

Barbara Jordan on Impeachment, July 25, 1974

Dallas Women’s Foundation December 10, 1991

Barbara Jordan Oral History, Special Interview I, 2/5/85