Keyword
in
Collection
Date
to
Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
Pages 14 and 15
Citation
MLA
APA
Chicago/Turabian
Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Pages 14 and 15. April 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. December 3, 2020. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1310.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(April 1979). Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Pages 14 and 15. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1310

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Pages 14 and 15, April 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed December 3, 2020, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1310.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

URL
Embed Image
Compound Item Description
Title Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date April 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the UH Digital Library About page.
File Name index.cpd
Item Description
Title Pages 14 and 15
Format (IMT)
  • image/jpeg
File Name femin_201109_549an.jpg
Transcript The Failure of Barbara Jordan's Success In a very short span of time Barbara Jordan had become a genuine national superstar, a household name, and one of the most admired people in America. She was a symbol, in the most uplifting sort of way, of how far blacks and women had come in this country. And yet... by Joseph Nocera You could see her every day from the press galleries, sitting in the same place, doing the same things. It didn't seem to matter whether the debate was over some sweeping national concern or whether it was a minor parochial dispute, whether there were hundreds of people milling around or whether the chamber was deserted. Barbara Jordan would be there on the floor of the House of Representatives in her self-appointed seat, three rows back near the middle aisle. "You can hear better on the center aisle," she writes in her new book, Barbara Jordan: A Self- Portrait, (Doubleday), "and you can catch the eye of the presiding officer better on the center aisle, as you are in his direct line of vision. So I decided that is where I would always sit, leaving one seat next to me on the aisle vacant for those people who might want to stop and visit from time to time." As it turns out, Barbara Jordan didn't have much need for catching the eye of the presiding officer. In the six years she was in Congress—until she retired last year-Jordan rarely spoke out on the floor, preferring instead to spend her time reading her correspondence and briefing papers, or listening to the often deadly- dull debates. On the other hand, having the extra seat on the aisle turned out to be quite a prescient move, for Jordan was often visited by her colleagues, particularly fellow Texans and Southerners, many of them the hard-rock conservatives who throughout her political career have felt most comfortable with her. According to the legend of Barbara Jordan (and it is a part of the legend she nurtures in the book), this seat is where she spun a lot of her special magic. Jordan has always insisted in interviews that she was a professional politician first and foremost (as opposed to being, say, a "professional" black or liberal or woman), and it is from that seat that she did most of her politicking. The men who sat next to her loved it when she joshed with them, and listened when she counseled them. Her political instincts are supposed to be superb, and when she argued one-on-one, she may well have been the most persuasive person in Congress. "She used to like to regale folks with stories about how she talked someone like Omar Burleson (until he retired, one of the real arch-conservatives of the Texas congressional delegation) into switching his vote on something after a little nudge from her," says one person who has heard her tell some of those stories (and who, like most of the people interviewed for this article, agreed to talk about her only if guaranteed anonymity). Rep. Charles Wilson of Texas, purportedly her closest friend in Congress, once told Texas Monthly that she was "the most influential member of Congress. I mean if you're talking about the one person who is able to get just anybody to stop and listen to what she has to say and convince them that she's right, then you're talking about Barbara." For all of us who have heard her —and that probably includes a majority of Americans-the idea of her being especially influential undoubtedly rings true. When, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, she talked about impeaching Richard Nixon, she electrified and stunned us with the eloquence of her words. ("My faith in the Constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total.") Two years later, when she was a keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention, Jordan again was overpowering. Again, we listened in awe to the flights of her oratory. Then the rumors began that she would be the vice- presidential nominee, and later, that she would be a cabinet secretary or the next Supreme Court justice, and it wasn't too long before it became part of the conventional political wisdom that if a black or a woman was ever going to be elected president someday, it would surely be Barbara Jordan. In a very short span of time she had become a genuine national superstar, a household name, and one of the most admired people in America. She was a symbol, in the most uplifting sort of way, of how far blacks and women had come in this country. And yet . . . since her retirement from Congress last year and the publication of her very revealing book last month, something nags, and it gets back to that seat in the middle aisle. When she first came to Congress, Jordan told her staff that she would be spending much of her time on the floor so she could familiarize herself with the intricacies of the rules and begin cultivating the people who had real power. By her last year in office she had another, more personal reason—painful calcium deposits on her knees made it difficult for her to get from place to place. But taken in their entirety, six years is a long time to sit in one place. Indeed, one of the first lessons usually learned in Congress is that much of the time spent on the floor is time wasted; that is not where personal or national agendas are formed, not where the "issues" are framed, not where laws are written. The House floor is a reactive place, where one votes upon the work of others. Barbara Jordan was a reactive congress- woman, willing to vote with the liberals almost every time out (except on important oil and gas votes—she was, after all, from Houston), but unwilling to take initiatives herself. Her accomplishments in Congress, for someone of her stature, are consequently painfully thin. So the question begs: what did she do Barbara Jordan was a person who derived her greatest satisfactions from each additional honor, each new step on the way to stardom. with all her gifts—her eloquence, her political abilities, her intelligence, her unquestioned powers to cajole and influence? The answer, implied throughout the book and borne out by talking to people who watched her or worked with her in Congress, seems to have been not very much at all. Rocking the Boat Barbara Jordan: A Self-Portrait is going to disappoint a lot of the people who found her so inspiring during the impeachment hearings and at the Democratic Convention. It is not an inspiring book. It is, instead, her version of "making it" in a world dominated by white males. This she did in part by bestowing friendship ("Barbara never formed friendships, she bestowed them," said one longtime observer) in the Texas Senate and Congress. She made it a point to joke and work with those who had been around those institutions longer, to show them she was safe, that she wasn't some wild-eyed radical out to do them in. She showed the kind of respect for their institutions that they appreciated and played the game by their rules. Her relations with the congressional black caucus were chilly at best, and with the women's caucus non-existent—she went to great lengths to disassociate herself from both groups-and this further endeared her to the congressional establishment. The people in those caucuses were boat-rockers, and Barbara Jordan didn't rock the boat. If making friends with the right people is one part of this success story, then ambition is the other. It has never been any secret that Barbara Jordan was ambitious—she herself made no effort to hide it, telling reporters "off-the-record" for example, that she would have liked to run for the Senate if she thought she could have won. What comes through most strongly in this book, however, is how single-minded her ambition was, how overwhelmingly important a force it was in her life. The sense one gets upon finish ing this book is that Barbara Jordan was a person who derived her greatest satisfactions from each additional honor, each new step on the way to stardom. "With all she had going against her, I don't think she would have ever gotten here if she hadn't been single-minded about it," says Rep. Bob Eckhardt, a fellow Texas liberal and generally an admirer of Jordan's. Perhaps. But like a lot of America's best and brightest, Barbara Jordan came to see Making It as its own reward; in her climb for the status and glory of being someone special, somewhere along the line she lost sight of what should have been more important. She forgot she had been elected to serve. Once in the book she lets us know that she understands that the desire to serve is supposed to be the point of getting into politics in the first place. "Change continued to be incredibly slow," writes coauthor Shelby Hearon (the book, by the way, is part autobiography, written by Jordan, and part biography, written by Hearon). "Barbara felt that from the time of the Brown decision to the Ross case nothing else had happened (to eliminate segregation). The only way to move things along, she concluded, was to get into a position where you could implement the laws. So, for the first time, she began to think seriously about politics." But by the time she entered Congress years later, most vestiges of that kind of idealism had gone. As a freshman con- gresswoman, Jordan came to Washington to interview potential staffers and asked them what they thought she should get involved in. When, once the session began, her new staff tried to push her in directions they thought she would be interested in, she would usually say, "I'll think about it," and the matter would never come up again. Throughout her career, she gagged at being called a symbol yet she rarely made any effort to rise above her symbolic importance. That she could have done so—easily—was obvious to just about anyone who ever came into contact with her. Unlike so many of our other politicians similarly swept away by the glamor of their own stardom, Jordan was one who could make a difference when she wanted to. Those few times she did get involved in something-as during the debate over the Voting Rights extension, when she played a key role in getting Texas included under the act-she was, everyone agrees, brilliant, persuasive and forceful. And that is also why it seems to pain people to classify her as "just another ambitious politician," when in many ways that is an accurate description of her. 'Another Milestone' Barbara Jordan's story begins in Houston's Fifth Ward, a large black section of the city, where she was born and raised at a time when segregation was still the law, and where she realized, at some point during her high school years, that she had the ability to stand out. "I always liked to have some award or something," she says. At that age, this is a most natural reaction; the chance to be special, whether it's as an athlete, a scholar, or even a delinquent, is a key motivator, and Barbara Jordan was as susceptible as anyone. She remembers running for "Girl of the Year," because "all of the clubs and organizations give you a gift." Recognizing around that time that she had a gift for public speaking, she began participating in oratorical contests. Again, the motivation was to bring home the medals: "Then we would have a ceremony and a presentation of the trophies to the school. And we de- claimers and debaters felt self-important with the little box of three-by-five-inch index cards on which we kept our notes. These were our badge of superiority over those others who could not do things like that." She wins an oratorical award and tells the local black newspaper: "It's just another milestone I've passed; it's just the beginning." decided: That will be my campaign theme. Retrenchment and reform. And I began to work them into my campaign speeches after I had announced for the House of Representatives." She was hustling: "I continued to go around to speak and meet people and testify before committees in the Texas Legislature on pending educational bills that would benefit blacks. All that whole bit in order to get my name well-known." And dreaming: "One day I went to Austin to testify, and when I sat up in the House gallery and looked down at (one) desk I thought, 'I ought to be in his place. I deserve it.' " And losing. Jordan lost races in 1962 and 1964, because in those days all candidates had to run countywide and no black in Texas was about to win an entire county. She became embittered, feeling she had been used because of her speaking prowess to help elect other Harris County Democrats, (including Eckhardt), and that they all secretly knew she would lose. After the second loss, she says, "The first order of business was to decide: "Is politics worth staying in for me?" It Her relations with the congressional black caucus were chilly at best, and with the women's caucus non-existent—she went to great lengths to disassociate herself from both groups—and this further endeared her to the congressional establishment. She graduates from Texas Southern University and later, Boston University Law School, where she finds that she can cope and succeed in the white world, and then it is time to decide what to do with her life. "I could have gotten a job at John Hancock Insurance Company (in Boston) as one of the hundreds of lawyers they have doing various claims and things. But when the personnel person said that I could have a job and took me down the hall to show me the office I could have had, it was one of a row of little cubbyholes all divided by plywood. So I thanked him very much and left. This required some reconsideration. I thought: Now, look—true the air is freer up here, true the opportunities are probably greater, but nobody in Boston, Massachusetts is interested in the advancement of Barbara Jordan (emphasis added). They don't know you ... I decided maybe it makes more sense to go home where people will be interested in helping you." So that's what she did, setting up a small law office in Houston, where she began to dabble in politics. She joined the Harris County Democrats, a group of Texas liberals who ran slates of candidates for public office (and usually lost). By 1962, she had become their best speaker, and that year she ran for public office for the first time as a candidate for the Texas House of Representatives. This was an interesting time for Jordan; she was trying hard to be seen not as a black woman symbol but as a concerned citizen who cared about issues. Her issues, however, left something to be desired. "I don't remember in which era of Texas government it was, but some governor talked about retrenchment and reform, and I liked the sound of those words. I thought: Now here are two nice, fine words. I thought about them, and I was, of course, and the rest is history. In 1965, Harris County was forced to reapportion its legislative districts after the Supreme Court ruled for "one-man, one-vote." Jordan this time ran as a black woman—"She would sell Barbara Jordan," Hearon writes—"and even though her opponent had impeccable liberal credentials, she crushed him by asking: "CAN A WHITE MAN WIN? NO. NOT THIS TIME." Of her time in the Texas Senate, William Broyles of Texas Monthly has written: "This first black state senator had not a single item in her platform designed to benefit blacks. She came out for traditional bread-and-butter liberal issues . . . She also strongly supported limits on oyster dredging, and played political expediency with welfare . . .It was a solid, traditional political platform. It was also a pale reflection of her extraordinary rhetoric and presence. Because of her charisma, she led people to expect that she would set things right, and they didn't have oyster dredging in mind." Jordan was determined to make these white males like her, so she sat and watched, learned the rules, formed alliances with the most conservative of them, and generally spoke to them on their own terms. She was not unlike the converted Catholic who becomes more devout than the Pope. Having overcome obstacles to gain entrance in the club, she seemed to want nothing so badly as to be able to adapt to her new surroundings, to be accepted by the congregation. Once she wrote a bill to outlaw employment discrimination and it passed 30-1. There wasn't any reason for her colleagues to worry that it would actually do anything about employment discrimination, however. Her bill had no teeth. And so, the white male club elected 14 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH APRIL 1979 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH APRIL 1979 15