Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas, on February 21, 1936, one of three daughters of Benjamin M. Jordan and Arlyne Patten Jordan. Barbara was educated in the Houston public schools and graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1952. She earned a BA from Texas Southern University in 1956 and a law degree from Boston University in 1959. That same year, she was admitted to the Massachusetts and Texas bars, and she began to practice law in Houston in 1960. To supplement her income (she worked temporarily out of her parents’ home), Jordan was employed as an administrative assistant to a county judge.
Barbara Jordan’s political turning point occurred when she worked on the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign in 1960. She eventually helped manage a highly organized get-out-the-vote program that served Houston’s 40 African-American precincts. In 1966 she ran for the Texas senate when court-enforced redistricting created a constituency that consisted largely of minority voters. Jordan won, defeating a white liberal and becoming the first African-American state senator in the U.S. since 1883 as well as the first Black woman ever elected to that chamber. In 1971 Jordan entered the race for the Texas congressional seat encompassing downtown Houston.
Barbara Jordan emerged as an eloquent and powerful interpreter of the Watergate impeachment investigation at a time when many Americans despaired about the Constitution and the country. As one of the first African Americans elected from the Deep South since 1898 and the first Black Congresswoman ever from that region, Jordan lent added weight to her message by her very presence on the House Judiciary Committee.
Jordan died in Austin, Texas, on January 17, 1996, from pneumonia that was a complication of leukemia.