Barbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was an American politician and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. On her death, she became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.
Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year. In 1960, she returned to Houston, passed the bar and started a private law practice.
Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives. Her persistence won her a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body. Re-elected to a full term in the Texas Senate in 1968, she served until 1972. She was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tem of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas.
In 1972, she was elected to Congress, the first woman to represent Texas in the House in her own right. She received extensive support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who helped her secure a position on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1974, she made an influential, televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the process of impeachment of Richard Nixon, Johnson’s successor as President. In 1975, she was appointed by Carl Albert, then Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia, became instead the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Her speech in New York that summer was ranked 5th in “Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century” list and was considered by some historians to have been among the best convention keynote speeches in modern history. Despite not being a candidate, Jordan received one delegate vote (0.03%) for President at the Convention.
Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became an adjunct professor teaching ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. She again was a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.
In 1994 and until her death in 1996, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which advocated increased restriction of immigration, called for all U.S. residents to carry a national identity card and increased penalties on employers that violated U.S. immigration regulations. Then-President Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission’s proposals. While she was Chair of the US Commission on Immigration Reform she argued that
“it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.”