Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Building honoring Barbara Jordan makes history

The trailblazing lawmaker gets the honor decades after her death: The Texas Capitol Complex now has named a building after a Black Texan.

For the first time, the Texas Capitol Complex has named a building after a Black Texan, a decades-long politician known as a trailblazing lawmaker whose powerful speaking style captivated crowds.

The Barbara Jordan Building in Austin, a $260 million 12-story structure, will house the Texas Department of Insurance.

“Barbara Jordan’s impact on the state of Texas, and really the world, was tremendous and cannot be overstated,” state Sen. Royce West told The Houston Chronicle. West, who represents Dallas, helped lead the campaign to name the building after Jordan. 

In this July 1974 photo, Rep. Barbara Jordan, a Texas Democrat, takes part in a House Judiciary Committee hearing during impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. The congresswoman, who died in 1996, is being honored in her home state with a Capitol Complex building that bears her name. (Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Jordan, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress from the South, had a long and storied career.

Born in Houston in 1936, Jordan went from that city’s public schools to Boston University, where in 1960, she received her law degree. That year, she got a taste of politics when she worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, spearheading a get-out-the-vote drive in her hometown. 

In 1966, after losing twice in bids for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, Jordan won election to the state Senate, the first Black state senator in Texas since 1883, which irked her all-white male colleagues. But she showed herself to be more than effective. She was dynamic.

Jordan helped establish the state’s first minimum wage law and pushed through anti-discrimination clauses in business contracts. She was so well respected that she became the first Black woman to preside over a legislative body in America when she was elected president pro tempore of the Texas Senate. She became the nation’s first Black chief executive in 1972 when she briefly served as acting Texas governor; the governor and lieutenant governor were both out of state. 

In 1972, Jordan ran for and won a U.S. House seat, where she valued her independence and sought a powerful committee assignment. With the help of fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson, she was appointed to the Judiciary Committee and took a lead role in the Watergate impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. She delivered a fiery speech denouncing the sins of Watergate and making a case for impeachment.

In 1976, Jordan simultaneously became the first Black person and first woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She left Congress in 1978 yet continued to teach at the University of Texas in Austin, lecture and stay involved in politics in her home state.

Barbara Jordan, Barbara Jordan building,
The Barbara Jordan Building’s entrance is off of the Texas Capitol Mall, a newly designed pedestrian space. The building memorializes the civil rights icon with a stately structure at the Texas Capitol Mall. (Photo: Texas Department of Insurance)

Suffering from leukemia and multiple sclerosis, Jordan died in 1996 from viral pneumonia. She was 59.

Some 27 years later, her name has been immortalized where she sought, effectively, to be of service.

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