Barbara Jordan, Governor for a Day, 1972

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Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan's smile during "Governor for a Day" ceremonies in 1972 reflects the long distance traveled by African-American women since being excluded from the women's suffrage movement 50 years earlier.

African Americans had used both the courts and direct action over the decades to win the civil rights that white Texans took for granted. Over the years, they won the right to vote; the right to sit on juries; equal pay for black teachers; desegregation of public transportation, restaurants, and other public accommodations; and an end to residential segregation. The right to serve in public office was no less hard-won. In 1958, Hattie White of Houston became the first African American elected to public office in Texas since Reconstruction when she won a seat on the school board. In 1966, the federal courts forced Texas to draw new legislative districts to end the gerrymandering that had denied blacks the opportunity to win public office. That year, Joe Lockridge of Dallas was elected to the House and 30-year-old Houston attorney Barbara Jordan won a seat in the Senate.

With her mastery of legal detail and her extraordinarily commanding presence, Jordan overcame the skepticism and hostility of her 30 male colleagues. In 1972, Barbara Jordan was elected to the U.S. Congress, becoming the first African American to represent Texas in Washington and one of the first two elected from the South in the 20th century. She became a national figure for her role on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings. Few who heard her speak will ever forget her words, "My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution."

Jordan was widely considered a future vice-presidential or presidential possibility until her public career was cut short by multiple sclerosis. She left Congress in 1979. In her later years, Jordan taught at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, advised governors and presidents, and chaired several government commissions. She died in 1996.

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Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1973/54-81.

Page last modified: August 24, 2011