A tribute to Barbara Jordan on her birthday

In celebration of Black History Month, we remember Barbara Jordan’s 1987 Commencement address at Middlebury. She received an Honorary Doctor of Laws and spoke about values in education and those which members of society should agree to live by: Truth, Tolerance, Respect, and Community.

Other photos of the commencement ceremony show Prof. David Rosenberg, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, handing out diplomas. He remembered about her speech, “She shared many historical and philosophical comments on principles and values to guide our commencing graduates. But the biggest applause and laughter came near the end when she quoted from Robert Fulghum’s essay, “All I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.” It was a good way to acknowledge the critical role parents play at an early and formative stage in the lives of our graduates long before they arrive at Middlebury.”

The former congresswoman showed her Texas pride from the commencement podium with the University of Texas’s “hook ’em horns” hand symbol. After retiring from politics in 1979, she taught ethics at the University of Texas until her death in 1996.

Born in Houston, Texas exactly 81 years ago, Jordan earned her law degree from Boston University in 1959 and was elected to the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African-American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to hold the seat. In 1972, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first woman to represent Texas in the House, and (in the same year) as president pro tempore of the Texas senate, the first black woman in America to preside over a legislative body.

She solidified herself as a household name while serving on the House Judiciary Committee during President Richard Nixon’s impeachment scandal. Delivered the opening remarks to the committee and the nation, she supported the articles of impeachment against the president. In her speech she held up her faith in the Constitution and declared that if her fellow committee members failed to impeach President Nixon,“then perhaps the eighteenth–century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth–century paper shredder.”

She extended her rhetorical capabilities to Middlebury College in 1987, undeterred by the multiple sclerosis that would ultimately kill her, delivering the address from a wheelchair.

 

Source: “Jordan, Barbara Charline | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives.” Accessed February 21, 2017. http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16031.

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