Hers was the booming voice
that thundered across a nation—inspiring political leaders
to greater vision, championing the underdog and fighting for truth
on the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment hearings
Jordan was the first African American since Reconstruction
to serve in the Texas Senate and then the first African American
woman from the South to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Always mindful of her humble beginnings in Houston’s Fifth
Ward, Barbara Jordan overcame innumerable obstacles to become a
lawyer and win elected office as the first African American since
Reconstruction to serve in the Texas Senate and then as the first
African American woman from the South to serve in the U.S. House
of Representatives. With her striking oratory, charismatic leadership
and dedication to public service, Jordan touched countless lives
during her years in government and later as a professor at The University
of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Both as a state senator and as a U.S. congresswoman, she sponsored
bills that championed the poor, the disadvantaged and people of
color. As a congresswoman, she sponsored legislation to broaden
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to cover Mexican Americans in Texas
and other southwestern states and to extend the law’s authority
to those states where minorities had been denied the right to vote
or had had their rights restricted by unfair registration practices,
such as literacy tests.
Jordan gained national prominence for her role in the 1974 Watergate
hearings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee when she delivered
what many considered to be the most powerful speech of the hearings.
Impressed with her eloquence and rising stature in the party, the
Democrats chose her to deliver the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic
national convention. She was the first woman and the first African
American to do so. Her speech, which addressed the themes of unity,
equality, accountability and American ideals, was considered by
many to be the highlight of the convention and helped to rally support
for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign.
Upon leaving the U.S. Congress in 1979, Jordan rejected offers
to practice corporate law and instead accepted an invitation to
teach public affairs and ethics at the LBJ School.
“Jordan was intrigued by the notion of teaching,” said
Mary Beth Rogers, a former LBJ School faculty member and the author
of Barbara Jordan: American Hero. “She felt that she had learned
so much through her own experiences and that her knowledge might
Jordan gained national prominence for her role in the 1974
Watergate hearings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee
when she delivered what many considered to be the most powerful
speech of the hearings.
Already considered a living legend when she came to the LBJ School,
Jordan quickly earned a reputation as an extraordinary teacher.
“Jordan called on her experience and her tremendous intellectual
capacity to teach about justice and equality, what she considered
to be the two fundamental principles of America,” Rogers said.
Students loved her sense of humor and distinctive teaching style,
but it was her passion for her subject matter that made her seminars
among the most sought-after graduate classes on campus. For 17 years
she taught at the LBJ School until her death in 1996.
The news of Jordan’s death on January 17, 1996, produced
a nationwide outpouring of emotion and respect. Media coverage of
her life and contributions filled the newspapers and broadcast news
in the days following her death, and memorial tributes from schools,
community organizations and others were abundant.
Memorials to Jordan on The University of Texas at Austin campus
began Jan. 19 with a march from the university Tower to the LBJ
Library, where Jordan’s body lay in state for 24 hours.
The words spoken in her honor described a woman whose public
image was larger than life, but whose private persona was full
of warmth, humor and humanity. Speaking at the memorial service,
DeAnn Friedholm, M.P.Aff. ’79, described her friend and
former teacher in a way that spoke for the entire LBJ School community:
“So why was BJ so special? So admired? So loved? Because
she spoke to the highest good in us all—she taught us to
know our own hearts and minds, and to travel the high road....
She believed that each of us can actually change the world, and
her investment in us gave us the confidence that we really could.”
It was that call to action that motivated students to organize
the first Barbara Jordan forum in 1997, a year after Jordan’s
Originally called the Barbara Jordan Memorial Forum on Diversity
in Public Policy, the event was organized to put a positive light
on diversity in the immediate aftermath of the Hopwood
decision, which prohibited the use of race in the admissions process
Jordan’s keynote address at the 1976 Democratic national
convention helped to rally support for Jimmy Carter’s
In keeping with Jordan’s focus on social justice and equality,
forum themes have broadened to include a range of issues, including
the digital divide, education, race relations and community empowerment.
As a way to celebrate Jordan’s life, student organizers hold
the forum each year in February—Jordan’s birth month
and the month the nation celebrates Black history.
The Seventh Annual Barbara Jordan National Forum on Public Policy,
scheduled for Feb. 27 to March 1, is called “Rejuvenating
Ethics, Responsibility and Commitment in Today’s America.”
This year’s forum organizers say their main objective is
to revive Jordan’s messages about civic duty and show ordinary
citizens how they can get involved and bring about positive changes
in their communities.
“Americans are struggling to define our responsibility to
our country, the ethics of our leaders and the commitment we must
make to improve the lives of all our citizens,” said forum
co-chair Alene Riley, who is also the LBJ School Class of 2003 Barbara
Jordan Scholar. “We want participants to return to their schools,
workplaces and communities thinking about these big questions and
on their way to finding answers.”
Among this year’s speakers are former Texas Lieutenant Governor
Ben Barnes, former Wall Street Journal senior editor Joseph Boyce
and Rogers, who is now chief strategist of KLRU, Austin’s
public television station.
“Barbara Jordan dedicated her life to others,” said
LBJ School Dean Ed Dorn. “It was her dream to see public policy
leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds working together to improve
the quality of life in their communities. The Barbara Jordan Memorial
Forum is a way to continue building on her dream.”
For information about the Seventh Annual Barbara Jordan National
Forum on Public Policy, which is free and open to the public, visit
Jordan Forum Web site.