Here’s my second participant in honor of Women’s History Month. As I mentioned previously, I wanted to introduce readers to women that might not be in the typical history books. I always liked to hear this particular woman speak. Her voice was deep, throaty and soothing. I thought of her as a true orator. She held the country spellbound during the Nixon impeachment hearings when she reminded her fellow congress people why the president could and should be impeached for covering-up the infamous Watergate activities. Listening to her during the televised hearings, I wondered who was that woman? Why hadn’t I heard about her before?
Like Congresswoman Chisholm, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was a woman with a series of “firsts” in her background. I will briefly outline them here because we should all know about her. Knowledge is power.
- In 1972, along with Andrew Young, they were the first two African Americans to be elected to congress from the deep south since 1898. Prior to becoming a congressperson, she was the first African American woman to win a Texas State Senate seat in 1966, after losing twice in 1962 and 1964.
- She was the first African American to win a Texas State Senate seat since 1883 and the first woman ever to win a state senate in Texas. She represented her district from 1966 until 1972.
- Her performance in the Texas State Senate was such that, in 1972 she was elected by her colleagues to become president pro-temps of the senate. Thus becoming the first woman and the first African American to hold that position which also made her one of the acting governors of the state; another first as of June 1972. Later in that same year, she won election to the US congress.
- Once in congress, she decided to go against the grain of freshman congress people and not take an offered slot on the Education and Labor committee. Instead, she used her connections with former President Lyndon Johnson (he’d invited her to visit the White House when she was a state senator) to get a plum spot on the Judiciary Committee. The rest is Watergate History.
- She served as a role model for many women and girls who watched her with wonderment and pride as I did in 1974 during the Watergate Impeachment hearing against then President Richard Nixon.
- After the Watergate Hearings, she went on to give the keynote speech at the 1976 Democratic Convention for Jimmy Carter. Once again, she was the first woman to do so and the first African American woman to do so. Her speech was stunning, so stunning it is considered by historians to rank 5th out of 100 of the most important American speeches of the 20th Century. Some experts consider it the best keynote convention speech in history.
- She retired from active politics in 1979 and began a career as an adjunct professor teaching future politicians and public officials. She was presented with numerous awards such as the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, Elizabeth Blackwell Award, United States Military Academy Sylvanus Thayer Award and other awards. She was inducted into Texas and National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1996, President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- In 1973, she was diagnosed with MS. Her health began failing, further in the 1990’s and she was diagnosed with leukemia. She eventually passed away from pneumonia on January 17, 1996. Her life was portrayed in a play “A Voice of Hope” at the Victory Garden Theater in Chicago.
Below are two memorable quotes from her when she was a member of the US Congress that fits so much of what’s going on in the world today.
“If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority.”
“I am neither a black politician nor a woman politician,” Jordan said in 1975. “Just a politician, a professional politician.”
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