Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was an attorney, educator, and politician from Houston, Texas. A skilled orator and debater in high school, she attended law school at Boston University before returning to Texas to practice law. She became involved in politics while campaigning for the Democratic Party in the 1960 election, and in 1966 became the first African American woman ever elected to the Texas Senate.
In 1972 Jordan was elected to the US House of Representatives, becoming the first black woman to serve in Congress from the South. In Congress, she focused on civil rights and improving the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. In 1974 Jordan participated in the televised hearings on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, which for the first time gave her national exposure.
Two years later, Barbara Jordan became the first African American woman to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. It was this speech that gave her a reputation as one of the finest, most moving speakers of her time.
In 1979 Barbara Jordan retired from Congress, and took a teaching position at the University of Texas, where she remained until her death in 1996. She remained active in progressive politics, serving on committees and as an ethics adviser to Governor Ann Richards.
Barbara Jordan's life and career was truly groundbreaking. She was an outspoken advocate for civil rights and social welfare at a time when political participation by blacks, especially in the south, was still a rarity. She was a leader for progressive reform both through her words and her actions. She was truly a Texan who I am proud of.
You can learn more about Barbara Jordan at Biography.com, where I did much of the research for this post.