History …the Month of February — a whole lot happened


 

February 1

1960 – In Greensboro, North Carolina, four African American students sat down and ordered coffee at a lunch counter inside a Woolworth’s store. They were refused service, but did not leave. Instead, they waited all day. The scene was repeated over the next few days, with protests spreading to other southern states, resulting in the eventual arrest of over 1,600 persons for participating in sit-ins.

 2003 – Sixteen minutes before it was scheduled to land, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart in flight over west Texas, killing all seven crew members. The accident may have resulted from damage caused during liftoff when a piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank broke off, piercing a hole in the shuttle’s left wing that allowed hot gases to penetrate the wing upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This was the second space shuttle lost in flight. In January 1986, Challenger exploded during liftoff.

February 2

1848 – The war between the U.S. and Mexico ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In exchange for $15 million, the U.S. acquired the areas encompassing parts or all of present day California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. The treaty was ratified on March 10, 1848.

1990 – In South Africa, the 30-year-old ban on the African National Congress was lifted by President F.W. de Klerk, who also promised to free Nelson Mandela and remove restrictions on political opposition groups.

1848 – The first shipload of Chinese emigrants arrived in San Francisco, CA.

1865 – A four-hour peace conference occurred between President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The meeting was unsuccessful as President Lincoln insisted there could be no armistice until the Confederates acknowledged Federal authority. The Confederates wanted an armistice first. Thus the Civil Warcontinued.

 1870 – The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing the right of citizens to vote, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

February 3

1783 – Spain recognized the independence of the United States.

 1913 – The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting Congress the authority to collect income taxes.

1947 – Percival Prattisbecame the first black news correspondent admitted to the House and Senate press gallery in Washington, DC. He worked for “Our World” in New York City.

2009 – Eric Holder was sworn in as attorney general. He was the first African-American to hold the post.

1943 – An extraordinary act of heroism occurred in the icy waters off Greenland after the U.S. Army transport ship Dorchester was hit by a German torpedo and began to sink rapidly. When it became apparent there were not enough life jackets, four U.S. Army chaplains on board removed theirs, handed them to frightened young soldiers, and chose to go down with the ship while praying.

February 4

1861 – Apache Chief Cochise was arrested in Arizona by the U.S. Army for raiding a ranch. Cochise then escaped and declared war, beginning the period known as the Apache Wars, which lasted 25 years.

1985 Twenty countries in the United Nations signed a document entitled “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”

February 5 

 1917 – The new constitution of Mexico, allowing for sweeping social changes, was adopted.

February 6

 1788 – Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the new U.S. Constitution, by a vote of 187 to 168.

1933 – The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. It set the date for the Presidential Inauguration as January 20th, instead of the old date of March 4th. It also sets January 3rd as the official opening date of Congress.

 1952 – King George VI of England died. Upon his death, his daughter Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Her actual coronation took place on June 2, 1953.

February 7

1795 – The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, limiting the powers of the Federal Judiciary over the states by prohibiting Federal lawsuits against individual states

February 8

1587 – Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was beheaded at Fotheringhay, England, after 19 years as a prisoner of Queen Elizabeth I. She became entangled in the complex political events surrounding the Protestant Reformation in England and was charged with complicity in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

February 10,

1942 – The first Medal of Honor during World War II was awarded to 2nd Lt. Alexander Nininger (posthumously) for heroism during the Battle of Bataan.

1967 – The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, clarifying the procedures for presidential succession in the event of the disability of a sitting president.

February 11

660BC – Celebrated in Japan as the founding date of the Japanese nation, which occurred with the accession to the throne of the first Emperor, Jimmu, in 660 BC.

 1929 – Italian dictator Benito Mussolini granted political independence to Vatican City and recognized the sovereignty of the Pope (Holy See) over the area, measuring about 110 acres.
1958 – Ruth Carol Taylor was the first black woman to become a stewardess by making her initial flight.

1990 – In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, at age 71, was released from prison after serving 27 years of a life sentence on charges of attempting to overthrow the apartheid government. In April 1994, he was elected president in the first all-race elections.

2011 – In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak resigned amid a massive protest calling for his ouster. Thousands of young Egyptians and others had protested non-stop for 18 days in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere. Mubarak had ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, functioning as a virtual dictator.

February 12

February 13

 1635 – Boston Latin School, the first tax-payer supported (public) school in America was established in Boston, Massachusetts.

 1945 – During World War II in Europe, British and American planes began massive bombing raids on Dresden, Germany. A four-day firestorm erupted that was visible for 200 miles and engulfed the historic old city, killing an estimated 135,000 German civilians.

February 14

14th – Celebrated as (Saint) Valentine’s Day around the world, now one of the most widely observed unofficial holidays in which romantic greeting cards and gifts are exchanged.

1849 – Photographer Mathew Brady took the first photograph of a U.S. President in office, James Polk.

 1929 – The St. Valentine’s Day massacre occurred in Chicago as seven members of the Bugs Moran gang were gunned down by five of Al Capone‘s mobsters posing as police.

February 15 

1898 – In Havana, the U.S. Battleship Maine was blown up while at anchor and quickly sank with 260 crew members lost. The incident inflamed public opinion in the U.S., resulting in a declaration of war against Spain on April 25, 1898, amid cries of “Remember the Maine!”

 1933 – An assassination attempt on newly elected U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt occurred in Miami, Florida. A spectator deflected the gunman’s aim. As a result, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak was shot and killed instead. The gunman, an Italian immigrant, was captured and later sentenced to death.

1989 – Soviet Russia completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan after nine years of unsuccessful involvement in the civil war between Muslim rebel groups and the Russian-backed Afghan government. Over 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in the fighting.

 

February 16

 

February 17

 1865 – During the American Civil War, Fort Sumter in South Carolina was returned to the Union after nearly a year and a half under Confederate control. The fort had been the scene of the first shots of the war.

 1909 – Apache Chief Geronimo (1829-1909) died while in captivity at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He had led a small group of warriors on raids throughout Arizona and New Mexico. Caught once, he escaped. The U.S. Army then sent 5,000 men to recapture him.

February 18

1841 – The first continuous filibuster in the U.S. Senate began. It lasted until March 11th.

1952 – Greece and Turkey became members of NATO

2001 – FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen was arrested and accused of spying for Russia for more than 15 years. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

1998 – In Nevada, two white separatists were arrested and accused of plotting a bacterial attack on subways in New York City.

1970 – The Chicago Seven defendants were found innocent of conspiring to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic national convention.

1998 – In Russia, money shortages resulted in the shutting down of three plants that produced nuclear weapons.

1885 – Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was published in the U.S. for the first time.

1930 – The planet Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh. The discovery was made as a result of photographs taken in January 1930.

February 19

Daisy Gatson Bates Day honors the life of Daisy Gatson Bates, a civil rights activist who played a key role in an integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Daisy Gatson Bates Day is a state holiday in Arkansas, the United States, on the third Monday of February, together with Washington’s Birthday.

1942 – Internment of Japanese Americans began after President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order requiring those living on the Pacific coast to report for relocation. Over 110,000 persons therefore shut down their businesses, sold off their property, quit school and moved inland to the relocation centers.

Washington’s Birthday, also known as Presidents’ Day, is a federal holiday held on the third Monday of February. The day honors presidents of the United States, including George Washington, the USA’s first president.

1807 – Former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr was arrested in Alabama. He was later tried and acquitted on charges of treason

1942 – U.S. President Roosevelt signed an executive order giving the military the authority to relocate and intern Japanese-Americans.

1953 – The State of Georgia approved the first literature censorship board in the U.S. Newspapers were excluded from the new legislation.

2004 – Former Enron Corp. chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was charged with fraud, insider trading and other crimes in connection with the energy trader’s collapse. Skilling was later convicted and sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.

February 20

 1943 – German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel broke through American lines at Kasserine Pass in North Africa as inexperienced U.S. Troops lost their first major battle of World War II in Europe, with 1,000 Americans killed.

1962 – Astronaut John Glenn became the first American launched into orbit. Traveling aboard the “Friendship 7” spacecraft, Glenn reached an altitude of 162 miles (260 kilometers) and completed three orbits in a flight lasting just under five hours. Glenn was the third American in space, preceded by Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom who had each completed short sub-orbital flights. All of them had been preceded by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who was the first human in space, completing one orbit on April 12, 1961 – a feat that intensified the already ongoing Space Race between the Russians and Americans. Glenn’s successful flight showed the Americans had caught up and was followed in September 1962 by President John F. Kennedy’s open call to land an American on the moon before the decade’s end.

1952 – Emmett L. Ashford became the first black umpire in organized baseball. He was authorized to be a substitute in the Southwestern International League.

1962 – John Glenn made space history when he orbited the world three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. He was aboard the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule. Glenn witnessed the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter while in flight.

1987 – A bomb exploded in a computer store in Salt Lake City, UT. The blast was blamed on the Unabomber.

February 21

1965 – Former Black Muslim leader Malcolm X (1925-1965) was shot and killed while delivering a speech in a ballroom in New York City.

 1972 – President Richard Nixon arrived in China for historic meetings with Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Premier Chou En-lai.

1994 – CIA agent Aldrich Ames was arrested on charges he spied for the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991.

February 22

 1956 – In Montgomery, Alabama, 80 participants in the three-month-old bus boycott voluntarily gave themselves up for arrest after an ultimatum from white city leaders. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were among those arrested. Later in 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated desegregation of the buses.

Birthday – George Washington (1732-1799) was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He served as commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and became the first U.S. President.

February 23

1942 – During World War II, the first attack on the U.S. mainland occurred as a Japanese submarine shelled an oil refinery near Santa Barbara, California, causing minor damage.

1991 – In Desert Storm, the Allied ground offensive began after a devastating month-long air campaign targeting Iraqi troops in both Iraq and Kuwait.

Birthday – African American educator and leader W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Birthday – Historian William L. Shirer (1904-1993) was born in Chicago, Illinois. As a news reporter stationed in Europe, he witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and reported on the surrender of France. Following the war he wrote the first major history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

February 24

1582 – Pope Gregory XIII corrected mistakes on the Julian calendar by dropping 10 days and directing that the day after October 4, 1582 would be October 15th. The Gregorian, or New Style calendar, was then adopted by Catholic countries, followed gradually by Protestant and other nations.

1867 – The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. The vote followed bitter opposition by the Radical Republicans in Congress toward Johnson’s reconstruction policies in the South. However, the effort to remove him failed in the Senate by just one vote.

February 25 

Birthday – Millicent Fenwick (1910-1992) was born in New York City. She championed liberal causes, serving as a member of the U.N. General Assembly and as a U.S. Congresswoman.

February 26

1848 – The Communist Manifesto pamphlet was published by two young socialists, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It advocated the abolition of all private property and a system in which workers own all means of production, land, factories and machinery.

 1994 – Political foes of Russian President Boris Yeltsin were freed by a general amnesty granted by the new Russian Parliament.

Birthday – American frontiersman “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) was born in Scott County, Indiana. He claimed to have killed over 4,000 buffalo within 17 months. He became world famous through his Wild West show which traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe for 30 years.

February 27

 1950 – The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, limiting the president to two terms or a maximum of ten years in office.

1991 – In Desert Storm, the 100-hour ground war ended as Allied troops entered Kuwait just four days after launching their offensive against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces.

Birthday – American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was born in Portland, Maine. Best known for Paul Revere’s RideThe Song of Hiawatha, and The Wreck of the Hesperus.

February 28

 1844 – During a demonstration of naval fire power, one of the guns aboard the USS Princeton exploded, killing several top U.S. government officials on the steamer ship, and narrowly missed killing President John Tyler.

1986 – Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme (1927-1986) was assassinated in Stockholm while exiting a movie theater with his wife.

 1994 – NATO conducted its first combat action in its 45 year history as four Bosnian Serb jets were shot down by American fighters in a no-fly zone.

 

The Senate ~ Congress 2020 ~ The House


House Floor Activity 

 

Friday, January 3, 2020

12:02 PM The Speaker announced that the House do now adjourn pursuant to section 8(c) of H. Res. 758. The next meeting is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on January 7, 2020.

12:02 PM The Chair announced that pursuant to section 8(a) of H. Res. 758, no organizational or legislative business will be conducted on this day and that bills and resolutions introduced today will receive a number but will not be referred to committee or noted in the Record until a subsequent day. The Chair also announced that executive communications, memorials, and petitions likewise will be referred and numbered on a subsequent day.
12:02 PM PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE – The Chair led the House in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.
12:00 PM Today’s prayer was offered by the House Chaplain, Rev. Patrick J. Conroy.
12:00 PM The Speaker designated the Honorable Jamie Raskin to act as Speaker pro tempore for today.
12:00 PM The House convened, starting a new legislative day, pursuant to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution for the meeting of the second session of the 116th Congress.
11:55 AM The Speaker announced that the House do now adjourn Sine Die.
11:55 AM The House convened, returning from a recess continuing the legislative day of January 3.
11:01 AM The Speaker announced that the House do now recess. The next meeting is subject to the call of the Chair.
11:01 AM PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE – The Chair led the House in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

5:00 pm H.R. 535PFAS Action Act of 2019
Committee on Rules

 

 

In the Library … “The Importance of Being Earnest”, by Oscar Wilde


Cover of "The Importance of Being Earnest...
Cover via Amazon

On This Day …Born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Irish writer Oscar Wilde

1895 – Oscar Wilde’s final play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” opened at the St. James’ Theatre in London.

http://www.biography.com/people/oscar-wilde-9531078/videos

Oscar Wilde (1854) Wilde was an Irish poet , novelist, and playwright who mocked social conventions and scandalized English society with his unorthodox ideas and conduct. He is best known for his sophisticated, witty plays, among them Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest , as well as his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, challenged Victorian morality in his writing and life, and was infamously imprisoned for being gay

Septima Poinsette – activist,teacher, wife – Black History


Septima Poinsette Clark was a teacher and civil rights activist whose citizenship schools helped enfranchise and empower African Americans.

Born on May 3, 1898, in Charleston, South Carolina, Septima Poinsette Clark branched out into social action with the NAACP while working as a teacher. As part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, she set up citizenship schools that helped many African Americans register to vote. Clark was 89 when she died on December 15, 1987, on South Carolina’s Johns Island.

Early Life

Septima Poinsette Clark was born on in Charleston, South Carolina, May 3, 1898, the second of eight children. Her father—who had been born a slave—and mother both encouraged her to get an education. Clark attended public school, then worked to earn the money needed to attend the Avery Normal Institute, a private school for African Americans.

Teaching and Early Activism

Clark qualified as a teacher, but Charleston did not hire African Americans to teach in its public schools. Instead, she became an instructor on South Carolina’s Johns Island in 1916.

In 1919, Clark returned to Charleston to teach at the Avery Institute. She also joined with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in trying to get the city to hire African-American teachers. By gathering signatures in favor of the change, Clark helped ensure that the effort was successful.

Clark married Nerie Clark in 1920. Her husband died of kidney failure five years later. She then moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where she continued teaching and also joined the local chapter of the NAACP. Clark worked with the organization—and with Thurgood Marshall—on a 1945 case that sought equal pay for black and white teachers. She described it as her “first effort in a social action challenging the status quo.” Her salary increased threefold when the case was won.

Going back to Charleston in 1947, Clark took up another teaching post, while maintaining her NAACP membership. However, in 1956, South Carolina made it illegal for public employees to belong to civil rights groups. Clark refused to renounce the NAACP and, as a result, lost her job.

Civil Rights Leader

Clark was next hired by Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School, an institution that supported integration and the Civil Rights Movement. She had previously participated in and led workshops there during breaks from school (Rosa Parks had attended one of her workshops in 1955).

Clark soon was directing Highlander’s Citizenship School program. These schools helped regular people learn how to instruct others in their communities in basic literacy and math skills. One particular benefit of this teaching was that more people were then able to register to vote (at the time, many states used literacy tests to disenfranchise African Americans).

In 1961, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took over this education project. Clark then joined the SCLC as its director of education and teaching. Under her leadership, more than 800 citizenship schools were created.

Awards and Legacy

Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970. In 1979, Jimmy Carter honored her with a Living Legacy Award. She received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, in 1982. In 1987, Clark’s second autobiography, Ready from Within: Septima Clark and Civil Rights, won an American Book Award (her first autobiography, Echo in My Soul, had been published in 1962).

Clark was 89 when she died on Johns Island on December 15, 1987. Over her long career of teaching and civil rights activism, she helped many African Americans begin to take control of their lives and discover their full rights as citizens.

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Freddie Stowers ~ Honor and recognition Long Overdue – Black History


NMAAHC -- National Museum of African American History and Culture

Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.

A Page From Our American Story

Grave of Cpl Freddie Stowers
Grave of CPL Freddie Stowers
at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery
in France.

Freddie Stowers, the grandson of a South Carolina slave, holds a unique spot in America’s pantheon of war heroes — as the only African American awarded the Medal of Honor for service in World War I. Stowers’ story, however, must be told in two parts.

The first part of the story is his act of heroism in 1918; the second part is that it took more than 72 years before Stowers finally received the recognition he was due.

The United States was the last major combatant to enter World War I, the “war to end all wars.” The conflict began in Europe in 1914, but in the U.S., isolationist sentiments were strong resulting in a foreign policy of non-intervention. However, in April 1917, after a German U-boat sank the British ship Lusitania, killing 128 Americans on board, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Three months later, on July 3, 1917, American troops landed in France.

Corporal Freddie Stowers came to France as part of the all-black Company C, 371st Regiment, 93rd Division that deployed in September, 1918. His service in France was short but courageous and memorable.

More than 50 years after the Civil War, America’s military was still segregated. The French, however, had no such rules, and Stowers and Company C were sent to the front lines to serve alongside French troops.

On September 28, just days after arriving in France, Stowers’ company was in the midst of an attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, when enemy forces appeared to be giving up.

According to the War Department, German soldiers emerged from their trenches waving a white flag, arms in the air — military actions that signal surrender. It was a ruse, however. As Americans, including Cpl. Stowers, went to capture the “surrendering” Germans, another wave of the enemy arose and opened fire.

Very quickly, Company C’s lieutenant and non-commissioned officers were killed in the fight. This left the 21-year-old Stowers in command. Without hesitation, he implored his men to advance on the Germans.

Stowers would be mortally shot during the exchange. Wounded and dying, Stowers continued to fight on, inspiring his men to push the enemy back. With Stowers leading the counter-attack, Americans took out an enemy machine gun position and went on to capture Hill 188.

Following the battle, Stowers’ commanding officer nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but the nomination was never processed. The Pentagon said the paperwork was misplaced. Some raise the possibility that the nomination wasn’t misplaced at all, but deliberately lost. They point to the fact that American troops were segregated and suggest that racial bias in the military might be the reason for Stowers’ missing paperwork.

The final part of Freddie Stowers’ story begins in 1990. As the Department of Defense began to modernize its data systems, it ordered a review of all battlefield medal nominations. When Stowers’ recommendation was found, the Pentagon quickly took action to give the corporal the long overdue recognition and honor he deserved.

Freddie Stowers MOH Ceremony in 1991.
After the posthumous presentation of the Medal of Honor
to the sisters of Corporal (CPL) Freddie Stowers by
President George H. W. Bush, Mrs. Barbara Bush and
Mary Bowens admire the Medal of Honor certificate.
Ms Bowens is CPL Stowers’ sister. His other sister
Georgina Palmer (far left) looks on. CPL Stowers is the
only Black American to receive the Medal for action during
World War I. Photo: Robert Ward, DOD PA, April 4, 1991.

On April 24, 1991, more than 72 years after Stowers made the ultimate sacrifice for his nation, his sisters Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowens, 88- and 77-years-old at the time, were presented his Medal of Honor by President George H. W. Bush.

Long before Stowers was honored by his nation, he, along with other members of Company C, received recognition from the French government: “For extraordinary heroism under fire.” Stowers and his unit received the Croix de Guerre – the French War Cross — the highest military medal France awards to allied soldiers.

Prior to World War I, 49 African Americans had been awarded the Medal of Honor, including 25 men who fought for the Union in the Civil War. There were 119 Medals of Honor recipients in World War I, with Stowers being the only African American. His long overdue recognition in 1991 is a small but important sign of the progress we as a nation have made.

Lonnie Bunch, Director All the best,
Lonnie Bunch
Director

P.S. We can only reach our $250 million goal with your help. I hope you will consider making a donation or becoming a Charter Member today.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest member of the Smithsonian Institution’s family of extraordinary museums.

 

The museum will be far more than a collection of objects. The Museum will be a powerful, positive force in the national discussion about race and the important role African Americans have played in the American story — a museum that will make all Americans proud.

Barbara Charline Jordan ~ Black History


JORDAN, Barbara Charline

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

1936–1996

Barbara Jordan emerged as an eloquent and powerful interpreter of the Watergate impeachment investigation at a time when many Americans despaired about the Constitution and the country. As one of the first African Americans elected from the Deep South since 1898 and the first black Congresswoman ever from that region, Jordan lent added weight to her message by her very presence on the House Judiciary Committee.

Barbara Charline Jordan was born in Houston, Texas, on February 21, 1936, one of three daughters of Benjamin M. Jordan and Arlyne Patten Jordan. Benjamin Jordan, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, worked in a local warehouse before becoming pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church, which his family had long attended. Arlyne Jordan was an accomplished public speaker. Barbara Jordan was educated in the Houston public schools and graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1952. She earned a B.A. from Texas Southern University in 1956 and a law degree from Boston University in 1959. That same year she was admitted to the Massachusetts and Texas bars, and she began to practice law in Houston in 1960. To supplement her income (she worked temporarily out of her parents’ home), Jordan was employed as an administrative assistant to a county judge.1

Barbara Jordan’s political turning point occurred when she worked on the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign in 1960. She eventually helped manage a highly organized get–out–the–vote program that served Houston’s 40 African–American precincts. In 1962 and 1964, Jordan ran for the Texas house of representatives but lost both times, so in 1966 she ran for the Texas senate when court–enforced redistricting created a constituency that consisted largely of minority voters. Jordan won, defeating a white liberal and becoming the first African–American state senator in the U.S. since 1883 as well as the first black woman ever elected to that body.2 The other 30 (male, white) senators received her coolly, but Jordan won them over as an effective legislator who pushed through bills establishing the state’s first minimum wage law, antidiscrimination clauses in business contracts, and the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. On March 28, 1972, Jordan’s peers elected her president pro tempore of the Texas senate, making her the first black woman in America to preside over a legislative body. In seconding the nomination, one of Jordan’s male colleagues on the other side of the chamber stood, spread his arms open, and said, “What can I say? Black is beautiful.”3 One of Jordan’s responsibilities as president pro tempore was to serve as acting governor when the governor and lieutenant governor were out of the state. When Jordan filled that largely ceremonial role on June 10, 1972, she became the first black chief executive in the nation.

In 1971, Jordan entered the race for the Texas congressional seat encompassing downtown Houston. The district had been redrawn after the 1970 Census and was composed of a predominantly African–American and Hispanic–American population. In the 1972 Democratic primary, Jordan faced Curtis Graves, another black state legislator, who attacked her for being too close to the white establishment. Jordan blunted Graves’s charges with her legislative credentials. “I’m not going to Washington and turn things upside down in a day,” she told supporters at a rally. “I’ll only be one of 435. But the 434 will know I am there.”4 Jordan took the primary with 80 percent of the vote. In the general election, against Republican Paul Merritt, she won 81 percent of the vote. Along with Andrew Young of Georgia, Jordan became the first African American in the 20th century elected to Congress from the Deep South. In the next two campaign cycles, Jordan overwhelmed her opposition, capturing 85 percent of the total vote in both general elections.5

Representative Jordan’s political philosophy from her days in the state legislature led her to focus on local issues. Civil rights and women’s rights activists sometimes criticized her when she chose to favor her community interests rather than theirs. She followed this pattern in the House. “I sought the power points,” she once said. “I knew if I were going to get anything done, [the congressional and party leaders] would be the ones to help me get it done.”6 Jordan was reluctant to commit herself fully to any one interest group or caucus, such as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), of which she was a member. House women met informally too, but Jordan’s attendance at those meetings was irregular, and she was noncommittal on most issues that were brought before the group. She was especially careful not to attach herself too closely to an agenda she had little control over that might impinge on her ability to navigate and compromise within the institutional power structure. “I am neither a black politician nor a woman politician,” Jordan said in 1975. “Just a politician, a professional politician.”7

In both her Texas legislative career and in the U.S. House, Jordan made the conscious decision to pursue power within the established system. One of her first moves in Congress was to establish relations with Members of the Texas delegation, which had strong institutional connections. Her attention to influence inside the House was demonstrated by where she sat in the House Chamber’s large, theater–style seating arrangement. CBC members traditionally sat to the far left of the chamber, but Jordan chose to sit near the center aisle because she could hear better, be seen by the presiding officer, and save an open seat for colleagues who wanted to stop and chat. Her seating preference as well as her loyalty to the Texas delegation agitated fellow CBC members, but both were consistent with Jordan’s model of seeking congressional influence.8

Jordan also believed that an important committee assignment, one where she would be unique because of her gender and race, would magnify her influence. Thus, she disregarded suggestions that she accept a seat on the Education and Labor Committee, and used her connection with Texan Lyndon Johnson—she had been his guest at the White House during her time as a state legislator—to secure a plum committee assignment on the Judiciary Committee. Securing former President Johnson’s intercession with Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, the chairman of the Committee on Committees, she landed a seat on the Judiciary Committee, where she served for her three terms in the House. In the 94th and 95th Congresses (1975–1979), she was also assigned to the Committee on Government Operations.

It was as a freshman Member of the Judiciary Committee, however, that Jordan earned national recognition. In the summer of 1974, as the committee considered articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon for crimes associated with the Watergate scandal, Jordan delivered opening remarks that shook the committee room and the large television audience tuned in to the proceedings. “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total,” Jordan said. “I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” She then explained the reasoning behind her support of each of the five articles of impeachment against President Nixon. In conclusion, Jordan said that if her fellow committee members did not find the evidence compelling enough, “then perhaps the eighteenth–century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth–century paper shredder.”9 Reaction to Jordan’s statement was overwhelming. Jordan recalled that people swarmed around her car after the hearings to congratulate her. Impressed by her articulate reasoning and her knowledge of the law, many people sent the Texas Representative letters of praise. One person even posted a message on a series of billboards in Houston: “Thank you, Barbara Jordan, for explaining the Constitution to us.”10 The Watergate impeachment hearings helped create Jordan’s reputation as a respected national politician.

From her first days in Congress, Jordan encouraged colleagues to extend the federal protection of civil rights to more Americans. She introduced civil rights amendments to legislation authorizing law enforcement assistance grants and joined seven other members on the Judiciary Committee in opposing Gerald R. Ford’s nomination as Vice President, citing a mediocre civil rights record. In 1975, when Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Jordan sponsored legislation that broadened the provisions of the act to include Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. Although she voted for busing to enforce racial desegregation in public schools, she was one of the few African–American Members of Congress to question the utility of the policy.11

Jordan’s talent as a speaker continued to contribute to her national profile. In 1976, she became the first woman and the first African–American keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. Appearing after a subdued speech by Ohio Senator John Glenn, Jordan energized the convention with her oratory. “We are a people in search of a national community,” she told the delegates, “attempting to fulfill our national purpose, to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal…. We cannot improve on the system of government, handed down to us by the founders of the Republic, but we can find new ways to implement that system and to realize our destiny.”12 Amid the historical perspective of the national bicentennial, and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate, Jordan’s message, like her commanding voice, resonated with Americans. She campaigned widely for Democratic presidential candidate James Earl (Jimmy) Carter, who defeated President Ford in the general election. Though Carter later interviewed Jordan for a Cabinet position, he did not offer her the position of U.S. Attorney General, the one post she said she would accept.

In 1978, downplaying reports about her poor health, Jordan declined to run for what would have been certain re–election to a fourth term, citing her “internal compass,” which she said was pointing her “away from demands that are all consuming.”13 She also said she wanted to work more directly on behalf of her fellow Texans. Jordan was appointed the Lyndon Johnson Chair in National Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, where she taught until the early 1990s. She continued to lecture widely on national affairs. In 1988 and 1992, she delivered speeches at the Democratic National Convention. Her 1992 keynote address was delivered from a wheelchair while she was in the midst of a lengthy battle with multiple sclerosis. In 1994, President William J. (Bill) Clinton appointed her to lead the Commission on Immigration Reform, a bipartisan group that delivered its findings in September of that year. Jordan received nearly two dozen honorary degrees and, in 1990, was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca, New York. She never married and carefully guarded her private life. Jordan died in Austin, Texas, on January 17, 1996, from pneumonia that was a complication of leukemia.

Footnotes

1For information on Jordan’s early life, see Barbara Jordan and Shelby Hearon, Barbara Jordan: A Self–Portrait (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,1979) and Mary Beth Rogers, Barbara Jordan: American Hero (NewYork: Bantam Books, 1998).

2Current Biography, 1993 (New York: H. W. Wilson and Company, 1993): 291; Rogers, Barbara Jordan.

3Richard Fenno, Going Home: Black Representatives and Their Constituents (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press): 106–109.

4Fenno, Going Home: 89–92.

5“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” available at http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

6Susan Tolchin, Women in Congress (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1976): 96–97.

7Fenno, Going Home: 106–109.

8Ibid.

9Quotations from Barbara Jordan and Shelby Hearon, “Barbara Jordan: A Self–Portrait,” 7 January 1979, Washington Post: A1.

10Jordan and Hearon, “Barbara Jordan: A Self–Portrait.”

11Current Biography, 1993: 291. See also Tolchin, Women in Congress: 96–97.

12Current Biography, 1993: 292.

13Ibid.

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