“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, a former LBJ School professor here at UT, 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, which was rated as the fifth best political speech of the 20th century by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A&M.
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 understand why things seem “larger than life” here in Texas. In Barbara Jordan’s words, “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 freshman congresswoman – not only a woman, but a woman of color – to speak against the ethical atrocities of the Nixon administration. In the “national endeavor” Jordan mentioned above, she made poverty, workers’ rights and civil rights policy priorities. She successfully campaigned for an expansion of the Civil Rights Act to include Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Alaskan Natives, showing her commitment to equality for all.
Just as impressive, she continued her life of service after her political career by passing on her knowledge as a professor here at the LBJ school. When alumni speak of the candor and wisdom they witnessed in her classroom, I can’t hold back my envy. I have always been awestruck by the clarity of Barbara Jordan’s message in her speech; 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 serve 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; however, we believe that 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 who got 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.
For a full list of activities, please click here.