Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The Life and Times of Barbara Jordan: A Twentieth-Century Baptist and Political Pioneer: The World Was a Different Place for Women in 1962 When Barbara Charline Jordan Lost Her First Race for the Texas House of Representatives

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The Life and Times of Barbara Jordan: A Twentieth-Century Baptist and Political Pioneer: The World Was a Different Place for Women in 1962 When Barbara Charline Jordan Lost Her First Race for the Texas House of Representatives

Article excerpt

Some people said that she probably lost the race because people were not accustomed to voting for a woman. Jordan said, "Well, now, that is totally ridiculous, and I'll just have to try to alter that." (1) Because of the path cleared by Jordan, the doors that had been closed are open wider now for women and for minorities. (2) With spellbinding oratory, political savvy, and a self-sufficiency that raised her above petty partisanship, this United States congresswoman and celebrated black Baptist leader blazed a trail through the electoral ranks in the 1970s, overcoming institutional bias to become one of the most respected representatives of the downtrodden in the United States. (3)

By whatever unstated, immeasurable, invisible standards the American people apply to candidates for Congress, women have seldom been their choice. Over the course of history, however, a select few have been imbued with a particular kind of motivation and drive to win congressional seats, sustain the support of their constituencies, and exert commendable leadership, thereby helping to shape the course of government and, thus, the course of the nation. Barbara Jordan was one of them. A black southern woman and Protestant, Jordan was raised in a meager economic environment, attended college, never married, and rose out of the ranks of poverty and the ordinary to accomplish extraordinary deeds.

When the story of the twentieth century is told, the life and times of Barbara Jordan will be found etched in a prominent place in the annals of African American, American, and congressional history. Her stellar and laborious engagement on the social issues of her time through speeches that integrated her beliefs and values in ethics, religion, and law, undergirded her efforts to create a better society. (4) Throughout her life, Jordan was a voice for common ground, for the ties that bind. Hers was a powerful clarion of healing, uplifting words that challenged and inspired women and minorities, undeniably all Americans, to reach for something higher, to believe in themselves and their own ability to change the world and make it a better place.

The purpose of this article is to illuminate the life, works, political contributions, and Baptist heritage of Barbara Charline Jordan. Before examining her public service that changed the face of politics and the lives of humankind, an introduction to the childhood of this African American girl, who joined a Baptist church at age ten and became the South's first black female United States congresswoman, is not only appropriate, but necessary. Within the framework of this article, a focus on Jordan's faith, upbringing, education, and political ethics will demonstrate that these were major contributors to her success as a political icon and spokesperson. Jordan, who can be termed a pacesetter, was numbered among the few who brought to Congress a practical mind, integrity, dedication to duty, and the courage and voice to challenge the system in the interest of better government. (5) Noted lawyer, legislator, scholar, author, and presidential advisor, she was extremely gifted and used all of her talents and skills to address, improve, and dignify the conditions of human life.

In the tradition of Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall, Jordan challenged the federal government and the American people to uphold the principles set forth in the American Constitution. (6) This same Constitution, which was used to uphold the divisive caste systems of classism, sexism, and racism through the Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson laws of "Separate but Equal," (7) would be used later by Jordan during the impeachment of an American president. Jordan, a born leader from a once segregated South, would be the voice who reminded the nation of the principles in the Constitution that encompassed all people regardless of race, class, creed, or color.

The Birth and Formation of a Leader

Born February 21, 1936, in Houston, Texas, Jordan was the third child of Arlyne Patten Jordan and Benjamin Jordan. …

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