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Guest column/Remembering the work of Barbara Jordan

February 26, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

African-Americans have realized that the road we have traveled has been stony, and our chastening rod has been bitter, yet we have come through tears that have been watered, and we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.

Through all of our struggles, we have come a good distance, but not good enough. We have come this far by faith, and there is not a question that God and his omnipotent power has brought us to this place. Our worshipful history and culture is known throughout almost every civilization. It is unique and different.

Barbara C. Jordan is best remembered for her defense of the Constitution during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon in 1974. Jordan's reputation as a national leader was heightened by her involvement in the House Judiciary Committee and the hearings that resulted in the impeachment of Nixon.

Jordan was born on Feb. 21, 1936, in Houston. Following her graduation from Texas Southern University, magna cum laude, she went on to the Boston University law school, where she graduated from in 1959. She passed the bar exam in Massachusetts. Her political involvement began in 1960, when she became active in the Kennedy-Johnson presidential campaign. Six years later, Jordan became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Texas State Senate, where she served until 1972.

When she attended Boston University, she was one of two African-American women there.

In 1972, Jordan's tenure in the Texas Senate was notable. She was the first African-American woman to chair a majority committee, labor and management relations, in the Texas Senate. She sponsored the Workmans' Compensation Act, which increased the maximum benefits paid to injured workers. In March 1972, she was unanimously elected president pro tempore of the Texas Legislature.

Jordan was the first African-American person to represent Texas and the first African-American woman to represent a southern state in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1974, she served on the influential House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon hearings. Jordan also was the first African-American member of the House since 1883.

She caught the attention of President Lyndon Johnson, who invited her to the White House for a preview of his 1967 civil rights message.

In 1976, she became the first woman, and first African-American, to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. In 1979, she retired from her career as a public servant and returned to Texas as a full professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Although retired, she remained heavily involved in politics. In 1987, she spoke out against Supreme Court-nominee Robert Bork. In 1992, she was asked to be the keynote speaker once again at the Democratic National Convention. Well known for her skill of perfect diction, Jordan advocated increased restriction of immigration and increased penalties on employers that violated the U.S. Immigration regulations in 1995.

Jordan was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the early 1970s. On Jan. 17, 1996, she died of complications from pneumonia. Jordan laid in state at the Johnson Library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Her papers are housed at the Barbara Jordan Archives at her alma mater, Texas Southern University. The main terminal at Austin Bergstrom International Airport is named after her, and a statue of her has been erected at the University of Texas, where she taught at the time of her death. She now lies with the ages, but is never forgotten.

God of our weary years, God of silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far on the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray.

(Wiggins is president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus Inc.)

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