cover image Barbara Jordan: American Hero

Barbara Jordan: American Hero

Mary Beth Rogers. Bantam Books, $27.5 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10603-9

Rogers, who knew Jordan (1936-1996) as a political and academic colleague at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin, Tex., skillfully weaves together the events of Jordan's personal life with her public persona and the painful struggle for black voting rights in the South. Born in Houston's black ghetto, Jordan attended an all-black high school and college. Not until she began law school in Boston did she understand just how ""separate but equal"" had denied her the education her white classmates had received. After graduating, Jordan returned to Houston but quickly found that a law career was not fulfilling. She stuffed envelopes for the Democratic Party in 1960 until the party discovered that her commanding physical presence, rich oratory and personal charisma made her a valuable speaker. In segregationist Texas (even LBJ could only convince four of 24 Texans in Congress to vote for his Civil Rights Act), she was determined to work within the system. She won the support of the white male party leadership, beginning her elective career at the age of 31 in the Texas State Senate; then, in 1972, she was elected to Congress. Jordan kept her private life private: she never wed, claiming she didn't want to chose between success and marriage, and when she could no longer hide her multiple sclerosis, she retired from Congress, though not from public speaking. Rogers's writing tends to be stolid at best, but with the full cooperation of the Jordan estate and interviews with staff, family and friends, she has managed to create an inspiring story of an extraordinary woman. (Dec.)