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Celebrating Barbara Jordan

In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to share a story about the first African American buried at the Texas State Cemetery, Barbara Jordan. It’s not much of a story, but it is a personal story. When I was very young, I think I was 10 or 11 at the time, I was boarding a plane with my parents. I think we were headed to California and Disneyland, but the destination escapes me. As we got onto the plane the line began to slow. We waited patiently to board the plane and it took longer than usual. By the time we got on, we realized why.

My mother was the first to figure it out and she led me to a woman in a wheelchair. It was Barbara Jordan. She was sitting at the front of the plane and many people were stopping to say hello or just to shake her hand. My mother had met her before, enough that Ms. Jordan recognized her, and she introduced me to her. I shook her hand gravely and listened to her say nice things about my mother. I remember being captivated by her voice and the way she spoke. She spoke with a different gravity in her voice than other people, as if what she was saying was the most important thing anyone had ever said.

Of course, I didn’t realize her place in Texas history that day, I guess if I thought anything I thought I had met an important person. However, after that day, especially in February when schools teach Black History Month, that meeting took on more and more weight in my mind. It gained significance every time Barbara Jordan’s name was written in a text book or brought up in a lecture in February or increasingly throughout the year as I got older. I hadn’t just met a nice lady on plane, I had met one of Texas’s most well-known public figures and an icon for women around the country, not just Texas.

Sometimes the best experiences are wasted on the young. I wish I had known more or could have appreciated the significance of the meeting back then, but no one has invented time travel as far as I know. All I can do is appreciate her for what she did for the state and the country and try and get that across to the kids who come out here for tours. I’ve compiled a list of links about her life below.

Note - All links lead outside the Cemetery site.

Good general starting off point for learning about Barbara Jordan from UT.

Barbara Jordan speeches on Youtube.

Text and audio of her most famous speeches from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Retrospective of Jordan’s life from PBS.

Biographical sketch from Congress.

Barbara Jordan Governor for a Day photo on the Portal to Texas History.

Very cool link to an oral history interview with Jordan from the LBJ library  



- Will Erwin