Being from Texas, there aren’t a lot of strong, progressive women in positions of power. Barbara Jordan is the key exception to that rule – she. was. awesome. As the first African American woman elected to the Texas State Senate, she joined the US House as the first female and black representative from a southern state.
A lawyer, state Senator, and Congresswoman, Jordan championed equal rights, availability of abortion services, social security benefits for homemakers, and just generally kicked ass – including Richard Nixon’s. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, she fought for his impeachment following the Watergate scandal. She was a constitutional scholar, educator, and eloquent speaker. Her keynote addresses at the 1976 and 1992 Democratic Conventions are a must-watch.
Jordan broke down racial barriers and the glass ceiling – all while concealing her sexuality. Although she spent many years with a partner, she never revealed that she was a lesbian. The press began reporting on the issue in 1996, following her death.
It doesn’t surprise me that Jordan kept her sexuality a secret – Texas isn’t exactly known for its acceptance of women, least of all homosexual women. Either way, people in Texas have a deep respect for Jordan and her work. At the University of Texas at Austin, there’s a statue honoring Barbara Jordan’s life, work, and contributions, along with a memorial at the Texas State Capitol.
Jordan was rumored to be considered a running mate for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, and even served as acting governor of Texas. (For one day.)
Beyond her legislative accomplishments, Jordan was a person of integrity and a respected member of academia and government, a scholar of the Constitution. Barbara Jordan is someone whom we should all admire, if only because of her dedication to unity. My favorite Barbara Jordan quote reads, “a spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness and self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.”
Jordan leaves a legacy of tolerance. The Jordan/Rustin Coalition was founded in 2000 to address a lack of support of LGBT initiatives by the African American community, especially same-sex marriage. She also leaves behind a legacy of progressive women in the United States House of Representatives, doing much of the same work she was tasked with years ago.
Amy is a social media strategist living in Dallas, Texas. She likes music, trashy TV, and ladybiz. tweet: @aemccarthy