Self-Portrait A Conversation With Miss Jordan Houston Unless circumstances take a sudden and unexpected turn, Miss Barbara Jordan, a Negro, will take her seat in the Texas Senate next January, representing the eleventh district in Harris County. This month, some 25,000 voters in that district selected her by a margin of two to one over State Rep. served four terms in the Legislature before trying to step up. In his campaign, Whitfield had characterized Miss Jordan to white constituents as an inexperienced person who would be the tool of liberal special interests. He told Negro voters they would be practicing racism in reverse by voting against him. for he had been a traditional liberal, which was mostly so, and had sought to help them. As Miss Jordan’s support became clear to him, Whitfield accused her of conflict of interest between her political campaigning and her $10,000 contract as an administrator of a job training program set up by the Economic Opportunity Act. Later, he wired the governor and U.S. Atty. Gen. Katzenbach about fraudulent voter registrations in the district. The reply of the federal government, if any, to these allegations has not been made public, although Whitfield got some verbal action on the voter registration ‘business from the district attorney’s office. An assistant in the office of Dist. Atty. Carol Vance told a radio interviewer, “Here’s a white man in trouble,” and indicated that one avenue of aid for Whitfield would be a request for federal voting judges in Houston, although none were sought, or came. From 1869, when Radical Republicans first controlled Reconstruction government in Texas, until 1895, well after the conservative Democrats had taken charge, a total of 35 Negroes served in the Texas Legislature, three of them in the Senate. The Democrats nominated two Negroes to the House this month, Curtis Graves, a Houston liberal, and Joe Lockridge, a Dallas lawyer who ran with the endorsement of downtown businessmen and is acceptable to Connally conservatives. The House remains conservative, although a little more city-oriented than last time, but the Senate of the 60th Legislature has a strong liberal contingent-13 liberals or swing moderatesand Miss Jordan, who is 30, is expected to add a young, strong voice to that bloc. A child of the Houston ghetto, Miss Jordan practices law from a walk-up office on Lyons Avenue, in the steamy middle of that city’s Fifth Ward. Her offices are a cool, elegant oasis. She works in a small room with a huge desk and a high-backed leather chair much like the one she will occupy in the Senate. On the desk are scattered briefs, news 6 The Texas Observer papers, lawbooks, campaign material, and letters to be signed, and there is a small brass version of the scales of justice. Miss Jordan is a large woman who wears dark, severely tailored clothing. She has an infectious campaigner’s grin, which alternates with a stern set of jaw, when she is concentrating on something, which molds her features into a bold likeness from some dark Roman coin. She uses her hands when she talks, and the way she talks is unusuala striking compound of Houston and Boston, clipped sentences delivered in a measured tempo, a rather deep voice which converts anecdotes Barbara Jordan to pronouncements with a querulous twist art the end. In her words, this is her story: “I WAS BORN in what is now the eleventh senatorial district in the Fifth Ward, is what it’s called, and went to elementary school out here, high school, and after graduation, went to Texas Southern, and got a bachelor’s degree in political science and ‘history. After graduating there, I went to Boston University Law School and got a law degree, and got admitted to the Massachusetts Bar and the Texas Bar, and started practicing law. \(I did not practice in Massachusetts. It was just after graduation, and I took the bar exam tended to practice in Texas. “Nobody in my family is a lawyer, although I understand I have a great-grandfather, at least I had one, who was a lawyer, but no one in my family is a lawyer or interested in law particularly. I did not come from a middle-class family. My mother was simply a housewife, and my father was a Baptist preacher who supplemented his income by working as a checker in a warehouse. He just was very wise in managing the little money that he had. He put it into my education and the education of my two sisters. “When I was in high school, everybody was trying to decide what they wanted to do and what they wanted to be, and I was among them. I was in the 10th grade. One day we had a ‘high school assembly program and Edith Sampson, who is a Negro woman lawyer in Chicagoshe’s a judge now thereshe was guest speaker at this program, and at that time she was an alternate delegate to the United Nations. Well, I ‘sat there in that auditorium, and I listened to her talk, and by the time she got through, I just knew that I was going to be a lawyer, that was just it. I saw her about four or five months ago, when I was in’ Chicago, and we got together and had lunch. I told her then, and she was quite pleasedin fact, she was quite emotional about itthat this was the thing that made me go into law. “There were very few women ‘students in my freshman class at Boston U. There were 300 freshman law students, and of that 300, about six were women, and two of the six were Negro women, and I was one of the two. Of that, 125 made it out, and only two women survived, and that was the two Negro women. We survived it, and it’s really fantastic; we laugh about it now. “My family thought I was just out of my mind. Literally. They said, ‘Why don’t you just do something sale and sound and practical like teach school?’ I just determined that I wouldn’t. “When I got out of law school in 1959, I needed some money to open a law office, so I took a job teaching political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, for one summer, and saved every nickel that they paid me, and got that money and came back here and opened a law office. “Tuskegee disturbed me, and I think it was the most frustrating summer I’ve ever spent. I got the job because they had just fired the political science professor for activities that they considered to be against the best interests of Tuskegee. Teaching political science, I understand he had the students reading things like Karl Marx, ‘and they were quoting him, and that kind of disturbed folks at Tuskegee. I stepped into that situation and stood it as long as I could, which was one summer. I could not have been in the permanent employ of that school.” 11 I THINK that when I first got involved in politics was when I first got involved in law. At that time, the Kennedy-Johnson campaign was just getting underway, and, of
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