February 21, 1936– Barbara Jordan:
“What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”
It is Black History Month. It is not necessarily Black Lesbians Month, but possibly it should be. African-American Gay Women made history too.
Today marks the birthday of an extraordinary woman. Jordan was the first woman from Texas to serve in the US Congress, and the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from a southern state. She was noted as an outstanding orator and first-class Constitutional scholar. If she had lived, she may have served in our current administration or on the Supreme Court like William Jefferson Clinton intended. Way back in 1976, Jordan was much discussed by those that make such decisions as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter. Instead, she became the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a national political party convention. Her speech in NYC that summer is considered in the top 10 of the Top 100 American Speeches Of The 20th Century by the Association Of University Professors.
Jordan was a gay woman with, what used to be called, a longtime companion, for more than 25 years, Nancy Earl. Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, The Houston Chronicle (what we used to call a newspaper) mentioned her relationship with Earl. After Jordan’s initial unsuccessful statewide races, her political advisers warned her to become more discreet.
President Clinton spoke at Jordan’s funeral in 1996, stating:
“Whenever she stood to speak, she jolted the nation’s attention with her artful and articulate defense of the Constitution, the American Dream, and the common heritage and destiny we share, whether we like it or not.”
In 2011, the US Postal Service chose for Jordon to have her own ‘forever’ stamp as the 34th honoree in the popular Black Heritage series. She received the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 1994. In 1984, Jordan was elected to the Texas Women’s Hall Of Fame. She was named one of the most influential American women in the 20th century by the National Women’s Hall Of Fame in 1993.
Bayard Rustin, who gets his own #BornThisDay treatment in March, was Jordon’s good friend. Rustin was a gay man and a leader in the fight for Civil Rights and Gay Rights. Together, their legacy continues with The Jordan/Rustin Coalition. The mission of the coalition is to empower Los Angeles’ Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people and their families, and to advocate for fair treatment of everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Jordan was diagnosed with MS in 1973 and then with Leukemia in the 1980s. She gave her final speech in 1996.
A powerful political voice can make a difference in this world. Who do we have, besides our current President, who belongs to the tradition of life changing stirring orators? Hillary? Jeb!? Trump? I do not want Jordan and her legacy to be forgotten or diminished. I always found her speeches and her very presence to be electrifying. Had Jordon lived another decade or two, I believe her contribution to our country would have been even more astounding. As it stands, Jordon was still a trailblazer.
“A spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness & self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.”