It's Friday, July 10, 2020, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation intended to be instructive or inspirational. I wrote yesterday about U.S. presidents who died before their time -- died in office, actually-- and had intended to quote John F. Kennedy today.
Instead, I'll quote a Texas woman who worked on Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign. A preacher's kid from Houston's nearly all-black 5th Ward, she knew nothing but segregated schools until she attended law school at Boston University. Afterwards, she went back home and entered politics. Her name was Barbara Jordan.
A week ago in honor of July 4, my colleague Mike Sabo assembled an array of voices speaking about equality. One of them belonged to Ms. Jordan.
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For those of us old enough to remember, Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings' role as an impeachment manager last year brought to mind a woman who impressed Americans of many political persuasions during Richard Nixon's impeachment fight.
Until then, few Americans outside her home state had heard of Barbara C. Jordan. She had been an effective force in the Texas state legislature in Austin but was still in her first term in Washington when the Watergate scandal came to the fore. In 1972, she had run against another black legislator in the Democratic primary for an open congressional seat. When her male opponent told his supporters that she'd been too cozy with Austin's white establishment, Jordan had the perfect rejoinder. "I'm not going to Washington and turn things upside down in a day," she told her supporters at a rally. "I'll only be one of 435. But the 434 will know I'm there."
It was a prophetic promise.
Jordan won that primary in a landslide and went on to become the first African American woman ever elected to Congress from the Deep South. Politics was in her blood -- one of her great grandfathers served in Congress during Reconstruction -- but Jordan said she was inspired to believe her gender was no barrier to advancement after hearing Edith Sampson speak on career day at her (segregated) high school.
Sampson was a prominent Chicago lawyer whom Harry Truman made the first African American to officially represent the United States at the U.N. In India during a global trip in 1949, she was asked whether blacks had equal rights in the U.S. Sampson candidly answered no; but she pointed to significant progress being made outside the South. "I would rather be a Negro in America," she said, "than a citizen in any other land."
Twenty-five years later, while the House Judiciary Committee was considering the impeachment of President Nixon, Rep. Jordan's rich voice was carried on the airwaves to the entire nation.
"Earlier today we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. ‘We the people…'" she said. "It is a very eloquent beginning. But, when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But, through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in ‘We, the people.'"
And that's your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.