Adventures in Feministory: Happy Birthday, Barbara Jordan!

Jordan was born in 1936 in Houston. After seeing Edith Sampson speak at her high school in tenth grade, she decided to become a lawyer, despite the discouragements she received based on race and gender to achieve that dream. Her interest in politics really jumpstarted after she worked on the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign. After two unsuccessful bids for the Texas House of Representatives, Jordan ran for Senate in 1966 and won--the first African-American to be elected to the senate since 1883 (and the first African-American woman elected to the Senate). After six years in the Senate, Jordan was elected the the House of Representatives--the first black woman from the South to do so. As a Congresswoman, Jordan introduced legislature to extend the state ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment, and campaigned to include Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans when extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and supported the Community Reinvestment Act.

Jordan smiles and gives the peace sign with one hand and holds the phone with the other. She just won the Senate!

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Jordan delivered the opening remarks of Nixon's impeachment hearings in 1974. In her speech (which is available in audio and fully transcribed at American Rhetoric) Jordan eloquently sites the Constitution to call out Nixon's wrongdoings (rather than, you know, just calling him a scumbag).

The Constitution charges the President with the task of taking care that the laws be faithfully executed, and yet the President has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, conceal surreptitious entry, attempt to compromise a federal judge, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice. "A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution." If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder.


Here is a video excerpt:

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis didn't keep Jordan off the political stage. She gave the keynote speech at both the 1976 and 1992 Democratic National Convention. Her 1976 speech was so impressive that it earned her a vote as a presidential nominee even though she wasn't running! She delivered her equally fiery 1992 speech from a wheelchair, check out excerpts on YouTube or read the transcript, also available at American Rhetoric.

a color photograph of Jordan at a meeting. She is speaking. A white man in the background looks on with interest.

While Jordan kept her private life private, she had a decades-long relationship with a psychologist named Nancy Earl. The LA-based Black LGBT rights group Jordan Rustin Coalition is named after Barbara Jordan and Bayard Rustin. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 (Strom Thurmond received it the year before, ugh!), and passed away two years later.

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

Barbara Jordan:

This is what a hero looks like!
Happy Birthday, sister!

Wish you had a...

like button. there really is nothing else to say...except - thanks for posting this.

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