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The Barbara Jordan Lecture Series

Ben Jealous, Civil and Human Rights Leader, Former NAACP President, Venture Capitalist & Author, will present the next Barbara Jordan lecture on October 11, 2016, at Foster Auditorium in the Paterno Library from 6:00-7:30 p.m.


In 2004, the Africana Research Center and the Department of African and African American Studies initiated the Barbara Jordan Lecture Series to recognize and introduce the Penn State community to the scholarship of an African American civil rights activist. The annual lecture is named after Barbara Jordan because she was a modern day “giant” in activist scholarship and action that many young people may not know or recall due to her untimely death in 1996.

About Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) is considered one of the most extraordinary politicians and orators of our times. She was born in Houston, Texas on February 21, 1936, the youngest of three daughters of Benjamin and Arlyne Jordan. She graduated magna cum laude in 1956 from Texas Southern University and earned a law degree from Bosto n University in 1959 . In 1966, Jordan ran for the Texas Senate and was the first African American state senator elected into office since 1883. She served in the Texas senate for six years, was the first African American to preside over the state senate and chair a major committee, and w as the first freshman senator named to the Texas Legislative Council.

1972, Barbara Jordan became the first African American woman elected to Congress from Texas and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the South. She gained national prominence for her role in the 1974 Watergate hearings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee when she delivered what many considered to be the best speech of the hearings. In the deep, resonant voice that was a trademark, Jordan declared: "My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

Invited to deliver a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and again in 1992, she was the first African American woman to do so. Her speech addressed the themes of unity, equality, accountability, and American ideals, was considered to be the highlight of the convention, and helped rally support for Carter's presidential campaign. Jordan's major legislative achievement was the 1975 expansion of the Voting Rights Act to bring language minorities, such as Mexican-Americans, under the law.

In 1979, after three terms in congress, Jordan retired from politics and accepted the Lyndon Baines Johnson Public Service Professorship at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. She taught courses on intergovernmental relations, political values, and ethics, published her autobiography, Barbara Jordan: A Self Portrait, in 1979, and served as unpaid ethics advisor to Governor Ann Richards in the early 1990s. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. Suffering from a number of ailments in her later years, she died in Austin on January 17, 1996. At the time of her death, Clinton said that Jordan's "eloquent voice, which articulated the views and concerns of millions of Americans, was always a source of inspiration. . . . Barbara's words flowed with heartfelt conviction and her actions rang of indefatigable determination as she challenged us as a nation to confront our weaknesses and live peacefully together as equals." Jordan is buried in the Austin’s State Cemetery and her papers are housed at the Barbara Jordan Archives at Texas Southern University.

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