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Jordan, Barbara (1936-1996)

Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston Texas’s Fifth Ward on February 21, 1936. She received her education in public schools in Texas and graduated from Texas Southern University in 1956 with a B.A. in political science and history. Jordan then received her LL.B. from Boston University School of Law in 1959.  She was admitted to the Massachusetts and Texas bars in 1960. Afterwards she decided to practice law in her hometown, Houston.  At the time Jordan was only the third African American woman to be licensed to practice law in Texas.

Barbara Jordan entered Houston politics in the early 1960s.  Though unsuccessful in obtaining the nomination as state representative in 1962 and 1964, in 1966 she became the first African American since 1883 to serve in the Texas Senate and the first black woman elected to that body.  She later served as president pro tem of the state senate and for one day in 1972, served as acting governor of the state.  

In November 1972 Jordan, a Democrat and protégée of former President Lyndon Johnson, defeated Republican Congressman Paul Merritt to represent Texas’s Eighteenth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Jordan was known for her expert knowledge in constitutional matters.  With help from former President Johnson, Jordan obtained a seat on the House Judiciary Committee where in 1974 she earned a national reputation for her prominent role in the President Richard Nixon impeachment hearings.   

Jordan’s name appeared as a sponsor on several major pieces of legislation including the Consumer Goods Pricing Act of 1975, the Voting Rights Act of 1975 (an extension of the more famous 1965 measure), and the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977. The Voting Rights Act of 1975 extended to Spanish-heritage, American Indian, Alaskan Natives, and Asian American language minorities the provisions which had successfully registered to vote thousands of African Americans in the South in the previous decade.  Jordan also helped extend the state ratification deadline for the Equal Rights

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