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Jordan, Barbara (1936-1996)  
 
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Barbara Jordan gained national attention for her intelligence, acumen, and oratorical skill as a member of the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee during hearings on the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. In her career as a legislator and educator she was a vigorous proponent of equal rights, especially for African Americans and women. A deeply closeted lesbian, she did not, however, speak out for the cause of glbtq rights.

The Jordan family has deep roots in Texas. Barbara Jordan's great-grandfather Edward A. Patton served in the state legislature in the early 1890s, one of the last African Americans elected until Jordan became a state senator in 1966. By the time of Jordan's birth on February 21, 1936 in Houston, the family fortunes had declined; her mother, Arlyne Patten Jordan, was a maid, and her father, Benjamin Meredith Jordan, was a warehouse employee who eventually also worked as a minister in the Baptist church.

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Jordan attended Houston public schools, where she excelled academically. During her senior year her speaking skills were recognized when she won a national oratory contest sponsored by the Baptist church.

Following her graduation in 1952 Jordan enrolled at Houston's all-black Texas Southern University, where she became a stand-out on the extremely successful debate team.

After graduating magna cum laude from Texas Southern in 1956 with a degree in political science and history, Jordan entered law school at Boston University. Throughout her youth Jordan had had first-hand experience of racism, but at Boston she encountered sexism. She recalled that the law school professors "just tolerated" the "ladies." Jordan persevered, however, earning her degree in 1959, after which she returned to Houston to practice law.

As the 1960 presidential election approached, Jordan became a volunteer with John F. Kennedy's campaign. She quickly became engrossed in the effort and moved from doing routine clerical tasks to working on a drive to turn out the city's African-American voters.

Buoyed by the success of the undertaking, Jordan decided to run for office herself. Her campaigns for the state House of Representatives in 1962 and 1964 ended in defeat, but they helped her establish a solid following. She was elected to the state Senate in her third run for office in 1966.

As a senator, Jordan championed the causes of fair housing and employment, minimum wage laws, and protection of the voting rights of minorities. Her political astuteness and effectiveness led her fellow Texan President Lyndon B. Johnson to seek her advice on fair housing legislation. Because of her record of accomplishment Jordan was chosen as the outstanding freshman senator in her first year in the legislature.

After six years of service in the state Senate, Jordan mounted a campaign for the United States House of Representatives in 1972. She won in a landslide. At the recommendation of former President Johnson, she was appointed to the Judiciary Committee.

It was as a member of this committee that Jordan came to nationwide attention during the hearings on the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974. Her intelligence and eloquence during the long and difficult proceedings brought her widespread respect and made her a rising political star.

Chosen to deliver a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Jordan gave a typically stirring speech. During the campaign she worked diligently to bring out the vote for Jimmy Carter, who had considered her as a possible running mate. After his election Carter offered Jordan the post of ambassador to the United Nations, which she declined.

Jordan stunned her constituents and colleagues by announcing in late 1977 that she would not run for a fourth term in the House of Representatives. The reason for her decision, which she did not reveal publicly, was that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Among the few privy to Jordan's medical condition was Nancy Earl. Jordan and Earl had met on a camping trip in the late 1960s and had quickly become close. In 1976 they bought property near Austin together and built a house.

Shortly after Jordan's announcement that she would not seek reelection, Earl joined her in Washington as a "special assistant" during her final year in office.

Once back in Austin in 1979, Jordan was appointed to the Lyndon Johnson Chair in National Policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Earl, an educational psychologist, also worked at the university in its testing and evaluation center.

Jordan remained largely out of the public eye for several years, but in 1987 she appeared before Congress to oppose the nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court. She addressed the Democratic National Convention the following year, seconding the vice-presidential nomination of fellow Texan Lloyd Bentsen.

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Barbara Jordan in 1976.
  
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