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Barbara Jordan was a U.S. congressional representative from Texas and was the first African American congresswoman to come from the Deep South.
Watch a speech by Barbara Charline Jordan, the first African-American Congresswoman.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. He was also one of the most effective Civil Rights crusaders of the 20th Century.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, speaks about the pioneering role labor leader and activist A. Philip Randolph played in the American Civil Rights movement.
Jesse Jackson saw the injustice of segregation and worked for Dr. Martin Luther King. Jackson fought for equal rights through his organizations, Operation PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition, and in 1984 and 1988, he ran for President.
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Born on February 21, 1936, in Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan was a lawyer and educator who was a congresswoman from 1972 to 1978—the first African-American congresswoman to come from the deep South and the first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate (1966). She captured the attention of President Lyndon Johnson, who invited her to the White House for a preview of his 1967 civil rights message.
A groundbreaking African-American politician, Barbara Jordan worked hard to achieve her dreams. She grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Houston, Texas. The daughter of a Baptist minister, Jordan was encouraged by her parents to strive for academic excellence. Her gift for language and building arguments was apparent in high school, where she was an award-winning debater and orator.
After graduating from Texas Southern University in 1956, Jordan continued her studies at Boston University Law School. She was one of the few black students in the program. Jordan returned to Texas after earning her degree and set up her law practice. At first, she worked out of her parents' home. Before long, Jordan became active in politics by campaigning for the Democratic presidential ticket of John F. Kennedy and fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1962, Jordan launched her first bid for public office, seeking a spot in the Texas legislature. It took two more tries for her to make history.
In 1966, Jordan finally won a seat in the Texas legislature, becoming the first black woman to do so. She did not receive a warm welcome from her new colleagues initially, but she eventually won some of them over. Jordan sought to improve the lives of her constituents by helping usher through the state's first law on minimum wage. She also worked to create the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. In 1972, her fellow lawmakers voted her in as president pro tempore of the state senate. Jordan became the first African American woman to hold this post.
Advancing in her career, Jordan won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, she was thrust into the national spotlight during the Watergate scandal. Jordan stood as a moral compass during this time of crisis, calling for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon for his involvement in this illegal political enterprise. "I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution," she said in a nationally televised speech during the proceedings.
At the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Jordan once again captured the public's attention with her keynote address. She told the crowd, "My presence here . . . is one additional bit of evidence that the American dream need not forever be deferred." Jordan had reportedly hoped to secure the position of U.S. attorney general within Jimmy Carter's administration after he won the election, but Carter gave the post to someone else.
Announcing that she wouldn't seek reelection, Jordan finished up her final term in 1979. Some thought that she might have gone farther in her political career, but it was later revealed that Jordan had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis around this time.
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Explore our collection of pioneering African Americans in government and politics, including Alexander Lucius Twilight, the first African American to win election to public office; Hiram R. Revels, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate; Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman elected to the Senate; and Amelia Boynton, who became both the first African-American woman and the first female Democratic candidate to run for a seat in Congress from Alabama in 1964. View full biographies, photos, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
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African-Americans have a long history of activism in America, from fighting for the right to vote to pushing for integrated public spaces. Activists like Stokely Carmichael organized freedom rides, James Meredith fought to integrate blacks and whites at the University of Mississippi, and Rosa Parks instigated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. These protests were often legal and nonviolent, and made a powerful impact on civil rights in the United States. With the help of activists like these—and many others—the country slowly worked to acknowledge the basic rights and contributions of African-Americans. Activists outisde of the U.S. include Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who have fought against apartheid in South Africa. Learn more about the many black activists who fought against the odds in order to achieve equality.
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