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The life and work of Barbara Jordan

Graduate students honor Barbara Jordan’s legacy with essays in a special edition of The Baines Report, an online student publication. Jordan was an attorney, former congresswoman and professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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In a special edition of The Baines Report, a Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs student-led online publication, three graduate students explore the life, legacy and lessons learned from Barbara Jordan, a politician, policymaker and a professor at The University of Texas at Austin for 17 years. These three essays explore various aspects of Jordan’s life and legacy, from honoring her as 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, to examining Jordan’s decision to keep her personal life private, to examining Jordan’s legacy as an ethical and moral leader.

This special edition coincided with the 16th Annual Barbara Jordan Forum Feb. 21-24, a week of student-led activities at the LBJ School that focus on policy areas championed by Jordan. Additionally, the school featured a keynote address by Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams, a service project, a blood drive and a voter registration drive.

Read the student essays:

Remembering a Legacy

By Chelsea Brass
Brass is a public affairs graduate student in the LBJ School.
“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 AandM.

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.
Read the rest of Brass’ essay on The Baines Report …

Worthy By Her Work and Leading By Example

By Victoria Lippman
Lippman is a second year Masters of Public Affairs student at the LBJ School.

“My presence here is one additional bit of evidence that the American Dream need not forever be deferred.”

Barbara Jordan spoke these words at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, referencing that her rise from Houston’s Fifth Ward to an esteemed young American politician (she was only 40 at the time) was unlikely and reaffirmed the power of opportunity. Similarly, my presence as a master’s student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and recipient of the 2010-2011 Barbara Jordan Fellowship is, in its own way, a similar affirmation.

There is no reasonable explanation why I, one of seven siblings and the first American-born child of Haitian immigrants, would be so interested in American politics at an early age. Nonetheless, at the age of eleven, I remember asking my mom if I could stay up late to watch the results of the 1980 presidential election. While the results of that night were unfortunate for Jordan’s party, it was a vivid, exciting time for me to witness the process of American democracy.
Read the rest of Lippman’s essay on The Baines Report …

Barbara Jordan and the Ethics of Silence

By Zachary Child
Child is a second year Master’s of Global Policy Studies student at the LBJ School.

With a federal appeals court ruling California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional earlier this month, the showdown over gay marriage moves inexorably closer to the Supreme Court. As the LBJ community celebrates the 76th anniversary of Barbara Jordan’s birth, it’s an appropriate time to consider what Jordan might have thought about the subject of gay rights as a committed public servant, a champion of social justice, and an American who remained in the closet.

In 1996, when Jordan’s Houston Chronicle obituary mentioned her longtime companion and confirmed rumors of her homosexuality, some gay readers criticized her decision not to come out during her lifetime.

Others who knew Jordan attempted to protect her wishes not to discuss her sexuality. Shortly after her death, Jordan’s friends unsuccessfully lobbied the Advocate not to publish an exposé on her private life so her legacy would focus on her work as a congresswoman and educator rather than her sexual preference.
Read the rest of Child’s essay on The Baines Report …

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