Former Barbara Jordan students remember her as an educator and politician

Matthew Hart

Individuals who remember Barbara Jordan recall her relentless commitment to bringing to light the differing conditions for Americans throughout her lifetime. 

The Policy Organization for Women hosted the first of several events for Barbara Jordan Week on Monday afternoon at Sid Richardson Hall. The event featured Deann Friedholm, director of Consumer Union’s health reform campaign, and Max Sherman, former member of the Texas Senate. 

Jordan became the first black congresswoman elected in the Deep South and the first black woman to win a seat in the Texas Legislature. She also served as a faculty member at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Friedholm said seeing Jordan speak at the Watergate hearing in 1974, just two years after being a freshman member of the House Judiciary Committee, left an impact on every member of the committee.

“When she walked out onto that stage, the ovation lasted four or five minutes,” Friedholm said. “I had just not seen adulation like that. She had much to be proud of and was not afraid to show it.”

Jordan’s Watergate pronouncement was important because at that time, there was the question of whether it was simply partisan politics. Sherman said Jordan explained to the country why it really was a constitutional crisis, and it was the moment that made her a national figure.

“She could play it big and she could play it small,” Sherman said. “She was criticized by many African-American groups because she did play with the guys and made it known that she seemed to have been forgotten by our founding fathers in the writing of the constitution.”

Friedholm said she met Jordan in the hallway of the LBJ School and was asked to be her teaching assistant by the dean.

“She was extremely serious about teaching,” Friedholm said. “Knowing how important of a person she was and how famous she was, I think people might have been surprised at how worried she was about being a good teacher. Together we put together the first syllabus for the liberal ethics class.”

Jordan is the first African American to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery. Sherman said her tombstone today says the word “teacher” and it is what she wanted to be remembered as.

“When she was very close to passing away, she asked me two favors,” Sherman said. “One was to make sure that they didn’t cancel her liberal ethics class after she was gone and the second was to bury her on the highest hill in the Texas State Cemetery next to Stephen F. Austin — and I made darn sure it happened.”