On July 12, 1976, Barbara Jordan, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, became the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. Although Jordan retired from politics just three years later to join the faculty at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the message of her 1976 speech still resonates today:
"We are a people in a quandry about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are people in search of a national community. We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America." — Barbara Jordan, July 12, 1976
The Life and Work of Barbara Jordan: Remembering a Legacy
BY Chelsea Brass, Public Affairs Student
This article originally ran as part of the 2011 Barbara Jordan Forum.
“We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor.”
Barbara Jordan, former LBJ School professor, was the first woman to serve in the Texas Senate and the first southern African American woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The former quote was taken from her 1976 Democratic National Convention speech, rated as one of the top speeches given throughout the entire 20th century.
When I moved to Texas in 2009 I listened to the speeches of people like Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan to orient myself to local politics. Through these women I can understand why things seem “larger than life” here in Texas. In Barbara Jordan’s words, “I believe that I get from the soil and the spirit of Texas the feeling that I as an individual can accomplish whatever I want and that there are no limits.” This drive propelled her into an impressive career of public service in the Lone Star State and beyond.
She was a force of nature in the political sphere. Imagine what it takes to be a minority – not only a woman, but a woman of color – and a freshman congresswoman to speak against the ethical atrocities of the Nixon administration. In that “national endeavor" she speaks of above, she made poverty, workers’ rights and civil rights policy priorities. In an example of her policies of inclusiveness, she successfully campaigned for an expansion of the Civil Rights Act to include Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Alaskan Natives.
Equally impressive, she continued to serve after her political career by humbly passing her knowledge down to the next generation as a professor here at the LBJ school. When alumni speak of her candor and wisdom they witnessed in her classroom, I cannot deny my envy. I have always been awestruck by the clarity of Barbara Jordan’s message; her conviction and the coherence of her ethical appeals.
We need her inspiration today. Where are our Barbara Jordans? As we feel the painful separation of increasingly bipartisan politics, there is a yearning for those days of inclusiveness. We need to remember figures like her who served as a beacon of hope and recognize that together we’re capable of making the same impact and accomplishments.
This week at the LBJ School we are honoring Jordan’s vision by holding events centered around issues we believe would be important to her if she were still with us today – those of the marginalized, the exploited and others who suffer due to persistent inequalities.
Our interpretation addresses a wide spectrum of race, gender and socio-economic challenges that we currently face; we are as broad as she was inclusive. In her personal life, she was resistant to being identified with a single group; we believe she is supportive of fighting for all marginalized people.
By attempting to make her vision tangible, we hope to follow in her footsteps. We see this exemplified with Representative Stacey Abrams, a former LBJ alum and another African American woman in the South to get her start in a state legislature. The LBJ staff and student organizations have planned these events and have invited these speakers that embody our theme: “We the People: The America We Pursue.” We hope that you will join us this week and celebrate the life of Barbara Jordan.
The 16th Annual Barbara Jordan Forum Retrospective
The 16th Annual Barbara Jordan Forum, held on Feb. 21, 2012, brought current students, faculty, alumni and the community together to commemorate the life and legacy of Barbara Jordan, a politician, policymaker and a professor at the LBJ School. In this video, LBJ School Dean Robert Hutchings, Georgia State Representative and Barbara Jordan Keynote Speaker Stacey Abrams (MPAff '98) and three Barbara Jordan student co-chairs share their thoughts and insights into the legacy of Barbara Jordan and the importance of the Forum.