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2011-01-06

Jordan honored with 2011 stamp - US Representative is 34th Black American named

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The late Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was a veritable "shooting star" of the Democrat Party in the 1970s.
In 1996, Jordan died of pneumonia, a complication of leukemia, at the age of 60. Prior to her death, she also struggled with multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed in 1973. Jordan's declining health from the progressive disease ultimately prevented then-President Bill Clinton from nominating her for the United States Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Jordan, a powerful orator, is still regarded as one of the most respected and influential American politicians of the 20th century.
As a testimony to her passionate patriotism and steadfast dedication to public service, on Wednesday, Dec. 29, the US Postal Service unveiled the Barbara Jordan Stamp, the 34th in the Black Heritage commemorative stamps series.
Jordan's prodigious list of "firsts" includes being the first African-American woman elected to the Texas legislature, the first African-American elected to the Texas State Senate since Reconstruction and the first African-American woman elected to the US Congress from the south. Jordan achieved the latter honor by garnering 80 percent of the vote in Texas' 18th District, which included downtown Houston. She served three terms in Congress.
During her two terms in the Texas Senate, Jordan became an effective and articulate legislator, sponsoring bills that established the state's first minimum wage law and the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. In 1972, her colleagues elected Jordan president pro tempore of the Texas legislature, earning her another distinction - becoming being the first black woman in the US ever to preside over a legislative body.
Last week, US Senator John Cornyn applauded the postal service's selection of Jordan.
"As the first African-American woman elected to the Texas legislature and first southern African-American woman elected to the US House of Representatives, Barbara Jordan's achievements cement her standing among the great cultural and political icons of our time," Cornyn said.
"This honor will help us remember her life's accomplishments, but the true commemoration of her life can be seen in the growing numbers of African-American and minority women serving as elected officials across the country."
Previously, Cornyn had worked to honor Jordan's legacy by successfully including her name in the title of the "Voting Rights Act Reauthorization of 2006."
Cornyn's colleague on the Hill, Congressman Lamar Smith noted, "Barbara Jordan made history as the first African-American woman elected to the Texas legislature and the first African-American woman elected to the US House of Representatives from a Southern state. This stamp will help us commemorate her pioneering work and preserve her legacy of public service for future generations."
As a freshman member of the US House of Representative House Judiciary Committee, Jordan achieved national prominence for her persuasive speech supporting the impeachment of President Richard Nixon during the 1974 Watergate hearings.
In 1976, she reached another benchmark by becoming the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. That speech has been ranked fifth in the list of the "Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century." Many historians consider her address to have been the best convention keynote speech in modern history.
The words she spoke 34 years ago still ring true today:
"We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community. We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present, unemployment, inflation, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America. We are attempting to fulfill our national purpose, to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal."
Additionally, Jordan's "Statement on the Articles of Impeachment" ranks 13th in the "Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century."
However, in the style of a "Texas Democrat," in 1995, Jordan served as chairman of a Congressional commission that advocated increased restriction of immigration, recommended all US residents carry a national identity card and increased penalties on employers who violated US immigration regulations. According to Wikipedia, Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission's proposals.
In 1979, she was appointed as professor of public affairs and ethics at the University of Texas at Austin, where Jordan was described as "an extraordinarily inspiring and challenging professor." So popular was the former Congresswoman as an educator that student lotteries were used to determine who could enroll in her classes.
As a testimony to Jordan's statesmanship, through the years, she received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award, Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, NAACP Spingarn Medal and the 1993 Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. In 1994, Clinton presented Jordan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Additionally, Jordan was elected to both the Texas and National Women's Hall of Fame. In 1993, the National Women's Hall of Fame named her one of the most influential American women of the 20th century.
The Barbara Jordan Black Heritage stamp will be issued September 2011. The ForeverĀ® stamp will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.
Jordan's portrait featured on the stamp is an oil painting by award-winning artist Albert Slark of Ajax, Ontario, Canada. Slark based his portrait on an undated black-and-white photograph of Jordan.