Explore the Legacy of One of America's First African American Congresswomen

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was a leader in civil rights for people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with disabilities (Jordan had suffered from multiple sclerosis since 1973). She was the first black U.S. Congresswoman from the Deep South, a civil rights lawyer, and a leader in the Nixon impeachment hearings. Jordan’s legacy stretches across the United States. This guide offers a look at some of the sites throughout the country where Jordan—alongside her speechwriter, caretaker, and partner Nancy Earl—broke ground throughout her career.

  1. The law school is a tall complex of buildings with a tan-brown facade.

    Photo By: Jpcahill/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Boston University Law School (Boston, Massachusetts)

    Jordan earned a law degree from Boston University in 1959. She was one of the few people of color in her program. Jordan’s time at Boston University crystallized her passion for civil rights law.

  2. The state capitol is a grand, brick-style building with an arch entrance instead of columns and a prominent cupola.

    Photo By: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Texas State Capitol (Austin, Texas)

    In 1966, Jordan successfully ran for the Texas senate after twice losing her bids for a spot in the state House of Representatives. She became the first African American woman to ever hold a seat in state office. In 1972, she was the first black woman to preside over a U.S. legislative body when she earned the position of pro tempore of the state senate.

  3. The US Capitol is a large white building with a tall set of steps leading to the front. Ten columns line the entrance, and a prominent cupola is at the center of the building.

    Photo By: Kevin McCoy/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

    United States Capitol (Washington, D.C.)

    In 1972, Jordan won her campaign for the United States House of Representatives. She served the 18th District in Texas as the first female Representative and one of the first African American representatives in the 20th century. While in Congress, Jordan supported legislation on immigration reform and voting rights.

  4. The Watergate is a large collection of buildings, including a hotel, a residential complex, and a business complex. All of the buildings have a smooth grey facade with a curving effect.

    Photo By: Farragutful/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Watergate Complex (Washington, D.C.)

    In 1972, President Nixon embroiled the capital in the Watergate scandal. The crimes at the Watergate complex spurred Jordan to deliver a speech encouraging legislators to impeach Nixon. The televised speech became a national rallying cry for impeachment, and educators still use it to teach students about effective oration and rhetoric.

  5. The photographer faces a busy street with taxis and other cars driving in the road. The weather is overcast with slight rain. Directly in front of the photographer is the entrance to the Madison Square Garden center -- it's a circular, brown facade.

    Photo By: Nyr3188/Wikimedia

    Madison Square Garden (New York, New York)

    In 1976, Barbara Jordan was invited as the first African American to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

  6. A shot taken upwards at the University of Texas' main building. The building has a smooth, tan-gray facade with an engraved motto over the door "Ye Shall Know the Truth, and the Truth Shall Make You Free."

    Photo By: RG2/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

    University of Texas (Austin, Texas)

    As a young adult, Jordan and other scholars of color were denied acceptance from UT because of the institution's segregation policies. Nonetheless, she later became a professor at the university. Before Jordan retired in the ‘90s, she served as the Lyndon B. Johnson Chair in National Policy at the School of Public Affairs. The institution memorialized Jordan by erecting an on-campus statue in her honor.

  7. At the cemetery, two Texas state flags fly by the walkway. The paved walkway leads through a well-manicured cemetery trees and flowers.

    Photo By: J Williams/Wikimedia

    Texas State Cemetery (Austin, Texas)

    Even in death, Jordan made history. After she died in 1996, Jordan became the first African American person to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

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