Texas state capitol hosts exhibit honoring civil rights activist Barbara Jordan

Eleanor Dearman

An exhibit honoring Barbara Jordan, civil rights activist, congresswoman and former UT professor, opened at the Capitol on Tuesday to chronicle her life and work.

 The exhibit, which will be open until Feb. 15, includes an interactive timeline with information about the phases of Jordan’s life. Among these phases is her tenure as the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate, and her election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972.

The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs is sponsoring the exhibit along with the Barbara Jordan Foundation and Texas Southern University in honor of Black History Month.

“[Jordan represents] a tremendous amount of history here as a politician and a policy maker here in the state of Texas,” said Susan Binford, assistant dean for communications and outreach at the LBJ School.

Jordan is famous for her extensive work to promote civil rights, including aiding in the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

After she left politics, Jordan worked at the University as a professor in the LBJ School for 17 years.

“She was so popular that they actually had to have a lottery to get in to her class because people wanted to get in and there just wasn’t enough seats,” said Gary Chaffee, archivist from the Barbara Jordan archives and special collections at TSU.

Segregation prevented Jordan from attending UT herself, according to Joseph Parker, board member on the Barbara Jordan Foundation. 

Parker said Jordan made a statement for civil rights when she decided to teach at the University.

“To come and give herself to the University of Texas at Austin is a pretty significant statement, and that alone speaks of a journey that she took,” Parker said. “I think in a lot of ways fundamentally [she] was a teacher — a teacher to the nation.”

Jordan’s civil rights efforts paved the way for current student activists, Parker said.

“They are standing on her shoulders and others who have crossed those acres there at UT,” Parker said. “Whether or not they know it.”

Jordan’s efforts at UT are still appreciated and honored at the LBJ School, Binford said. Although the LBJ School is honoring Jordan this month, Binford said they think about her work year round.

“We are in the business this year of training future leaders who are making policy and going out as public servants,” Binford said. “She is a figure that stands for everything that we are trying to impart.”

Parker said he hopes the exhibition at the Capitol and her lasting impact at the LBJ school will encourage University students to learn more about Jordan.

 “If they hear her name, and they may not know about her, then I would hope they would be curious and say, ‘Let me find out more,’” Parker said. “In doing that, they will realize the contribution that she made, and that she was a figure and icon at the LBJ School.”