Barbara Jordan Quotes

February 21, 1936 - January 17, 1996

Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan. Nancy R. Schiff / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Barbara Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was a civil rights activist, lawyer, and politician. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she became active in politics working for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960. She later served in the Texas House of Representatives and in the Texas Senate, becoming the first Black woman to be elected to the Texas Senate. She served as a U.S. Congresswoman from 1972-1978, where she also made history as the first woman elected in her own right to serve as a representative from Texas.

In 1976, Jordan became the first African American to give a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. She is also remembered for her speech during the Nixon impeachment hearings, which was widely praised for its content as well as her excellent rhetoric and delivery. After retiring from Congress, she taught at the University of Texas at Austin. The passenger terminal at Austin's international airport is named in honor of Barbara Jordan.

Selected Barbara Jordan Quotations

• The American dream is not dead. It is gasping for breath, but it is not dead.

• I never intended to become a run-of-the-mill person.

• A spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness and self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.

• One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.

• If you're going to play the game properly you'd better know every rule.

• If you are politically inclined, you may be President of the United States. All my growth and development led me to believe that if you really do the right thing, and if you play by the rules, and if you’ve got good enough, solid judgment and common sense, that you’re going to be able to do whatever you want to do with your life.

• "We the people" -- it is a very eloquent beginning. But when the Constitution of the United States was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We the people." I felt for many years that somehow 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."

• We cannot improve on the system of government handed down to us by the founders of the Republic, but we can find new ways to implement that system and realize our destiny. (from her 1976 speech at the Democratic National Convention

• Just remember the world is not a playground but a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. One eternal lesson for us all: to teach us how better we should love.

• We want to be in control of our lives. Whether we are jungle fighters, craftsmen, company men, gamesmen, we want to be in control. And when the government erodes that control, we are not comfortable.

• If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority.

• The imperative is to define what is right and do it.

• What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.

• Justice of right is always to take precedence over might.

• I live a day at a time. Each day I look for a kernel of excitement. In the morning, I say: "What is my exciting thing for today?" Then, I do the day. Don't ask me about tomorrow.

• I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He's just incapable of it.

• My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.

• We only want, we only ask, that when we stand up and talk about one nation under God, liberty, justice for everybody, we only want to be able to look at the flag, put our right hand over our heats, repeat those words, and know that they are true.

• The majority of the American people still believe that every single individual in this country is entitled to just as much respect, just as much dignity, as every other individual.

• How do we create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people? The key is tolerance - the one value that is indispensable in creating community.

• Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.

• If I have anything special that makes me "influential" I simply don't know how to define it. If I knew the ingredients I would bottle them, package them and sell them, because I want everyone to be able to work together in a spirit of cooperation and compromise and accommodation without, you know, any caving in or anyone being woefully violated personally or in terms of his principles.

• I believed I was going to be a lawyer, or rather something called a lawyer, but I had no fixed notion of what that was.

• I don't know that I ever thought: "How can I get out of this?" I just know that there were some things that I did not want to be a part of my life, but I had no alternatives in mind at that point. Since I didn't see movies, and we didn't have television, and I didn't go any place with anybody else, how could I know anything else to consider

• I realized that the best training available in an all-black instant university was not equal to the best training one developed as a white university student. Separate was not equal; it just wasn't. No matter what kind of face you put on it or how many frills you attached to it, separate was not equal. I was doing sixteen years of remedial work in thinking.

On why she retired from Congress after three terms: I felt more of a responsibility to the country as a whole, as contrasted with the duty of representing the half-million people in the Eighteenth Congressional District. I felt some necessity to address national issues. I thought that my role now was to be one of the voices in the country defining where we were, where we were going, what the policies were that were being pursued, and where the holes in those policies were. I felt that I was more in an instructive role than a legislative role.


Parham, Sandra, ed. Selected Speeches: Barbara C. Jordan. Howard University Press, 1999.

Sherman, Max, ed. Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder. University of Texas Press, 2010.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Barbara Jordan Quotes." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Barbara Jordan Quotes. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Barbara Jordan Quotes." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).