Famous Person: Barbara Jordan
Related Topics:
Public Speaking Skills
African American Women
Grade Level: 4th/5th
Author: Mary Ann Bailey

Barbara Jordan

February 21, 1936--January 17, 1996


Background Information
Time Allotment

Background Information:

Barbara Jordan was born in Houston, Texas on February 21, 1936. She was the youngest of three daughters born to Benjamin and Arlyne Jordan. Her family was poor, but she did not realize it since everyone else around her was poor also. She was always a good student. She was in the top 5% of her school's graduating class. She had big ambitions in life and wanted to do something unusual. She made a considerable impact on our country by taking action to help others, especially minorities, and the poor.

She attended Texas Southern University majoring in Social Studies: Political Science and History. After graduating magna cum lauder she became the first African American student to attend Boston University Law School.

From 1959-1966 she worked as an assistant to Harris County Judge, Bill Elliot. During this time she helped secure the African American vote in Houston which helped John F. Kennedy become president. This was only the beginning of her involvement in politics.

She ran for the Texas House of Representatives in 1962--but lost. She ran again in 1964--but lost. She did not give up. In 1966 she became the first African American state senator in the state of Texas since 1883. She was elected President Pro Tem and became the first African American Woman to preside over a legislative body in the United States.

During this time she worked to promote tolerance and civil rights. She played an important part in including minority languages in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act required voting ballots to include minority languages where at least 5% of the population did not speak English as their first language. She backed legislation to raise the standard of living for Americans in poverty. Some examples of this are: Increase of the minimum wage, free legal services for the poor, and forcing the government to include anti-discrimination clauses in their business contracts. She later helped to distribute Teaching Tolerance, a resource for teachers, across the nation.

In 1972 she was elected to the United States House of Representatives. She became the first African American congresswoman from the deep south to win a congressional seat in recent history. She became an outstanding member of congress.

She served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon. She is well known for her speech reaffirming her faith in the United States Constitution after Nixon left office. Many people were inspired by her support and faith in the constitution even though in her words, "When the document was completed, in September 1787, it did not include me." After that she was often asked to speak. She had a special talent for being able to captivate her audience. She was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Conventions of 1976 and 1992. She became known as the best living orator.

After she retired from politics she taught Social Studies at the University of Texas. She enjoyed teaching and helping young people realize that the United States Constitution is the foundation that our country built upon. Barbara Jordan realized that this document was created to protect minorities, and that it should be upheld to continue to ensure equal rights for everyone.

Although Barbara Jordan was a pioneer in the area of politics for women, and African Americans alike--She did not want to become a symbol for anything or any group of people. She hoped that the nation would see her as a human being who was qualified for the positions she held.

During her lifetime she was loved and honored by many. In 1988 the HWPC (Hollywood Women's Political Committee) established the Barbara Jordan award. This award is given in her name to people who show political courage and commitment. This award has been given to such memorable people as Rosa Parks (1989), Morris Dees (1991), and Mario Cuomo (1995). In 1994 President Clinton gave her the nations highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Barbara Jordan passed away on January 17, 1996.

Time allotment: Two weeks

Book: Building a Bridge by Lisa Shook Begaye
Book: The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Suess (Theodore S. Geisel)
Large sheet of paper
Arm bands or some other way to label
Paper cups
Patterns for blocks
Journal (some lined, and some plain paper)


1-Given the background information, students will be able to identify at least three contributions Barbara Jordan made to our country.

2-Given the story The Sneetches students will be able to differentiate between prejudice and dislike. They will be able to generate a list of characteristics for which a person might experience prejudice.

3-Given a mini-lesson on speaking skills students will be able to deliver a well articulated speech related to the topic of tolerance. The speech must contain an opening, body, and conclusion.

4-Given the discrimination simulation activity, students will be able to express their feelings in writing regarding how it feels to be discriminated against. They will be able to list at least one thing that is human nature to a group of people.

5-Given the story Building a Bridge, students will be able to realize that each of us are unique individuals as well as similar in many ways.

6-Given a social problem students will be able to demonstrate the importance of acting socially. The students will demonstrate this by making a poster to be displayed in the community.



During this unit students will keep a journal used to track thought and reflection. The journal will provide a way for each student to become more aware of their own views, thoughts, and feelings. Putting these things in writing should help the students ideas become more concrete. It will help each individual see what intolerances they might have and point out areas that could use some improvement.

Sometimes the journal will be used as a place to express feelings, and will not be looked at. On other occasions the journal will be used to reinforce a specific topic discussed that day. On these days the journal will be turned in for assessment.

NOTE: The teacher should also keep a journal, in order to be aware of their own intolerances and areas requiring improvement.

Day One--Think Pair Share

Read the story The Sneetches by Dr. Suess. Have each student spend a few minutes thinking of a characteristic for which prejudice may be experienced. Have them also think of what could be done to make things better. In pairs, have the students share with each other the characteristic they thought of. Then, share information about how Barbara Jordan helped those who were minorities or the poor. She spoke out for those who normally wouldn't have been heard. Make a list of the ideas they have generated. Spend some time talking about how to take an activist role in helping to prevent these types of discrimination.

Day Two--Lesson on Speaking Skills

As a class review the list made during the Think Pair Share activity. Add any new ideas they may have thought of. Share some of the things that Barbara Jordan did to promote tolerance. For example: She helped promote the magazine Teaching Tolerance, she gave speeches on working together, she lived as an example to the words she spoke. Also talk about how she was well known for her speaking abilities. She was the keynote speaker at two Democratic National Conventions.

Give a mini lesson teaching the important things to consider when writing a speech, such as articulating words, voice tone and pitch, and gaining the attention of the audience. Have them keep in mind that they will be preparing a short speech on something they can do to promote tolerance of some type of difference.
It is important to consider who you audience will be and the occasion. The topic also needs to be small enough to cover will in a short speech. For a short speech there should only be one topic or theme.

It is critical to include the three basic parts of a speech which are: opening, body, and conclusion. The opening is a short greeting where you establish rapport and credibility. This is where you catch their attention and explain why they should listen to you. The body is where you make your speech memorable. You bring together everything that you have researched into an organized, clear speech. The conclusion should challenge them to act for tolerance. It should be short and memorable.

Days 3-4 Discrimination Simulation

Barbara Jordan was committed to creating empathy and understanding among people with differences. She wanted everyone to be treated equally.

This activity must be handled with a lot of thought and planning. It might be a good idea to inform parents that you will be doing this activity before you do it in class. The time you spend, and how strict you are with the rules will depend greatly on the age of your students, and their personalities.

Divide the class into two groups. This can be done by dividing them by eye or hair color, where they live, if they ride the bus or walk to school. You may even make arm bands or labels to help distinguish who is in each group. For the first day, group A will be favored. Make sure they know the roles will be reversed the following day.

The favored group:

The second group:

After doing this activity it is important to make sure the kids are making important connections and understand why we did this activity. Remind them that we are all important individuals and the reasons we used to divide them for this activity do not really matter.

Have a class discussion. What kinds of things did you notice? Did you draw together as a group? Did you keep up a guard and act as if it didn't matter? How did you feel when you were in the "good group?" What did you learn? Why is it wrong to treat people like we did during this activity?

Day Five--Building a Bridge to Understanding Bulletin Board

Barbara Jordan not only cared about individuals, but she took action to help those she cared about. She ran for the Texas House of Representatives, loosing twice before being elected to office. She did not give up on her desire to be a representative for the people and work to ensure their rights.

Read the story Building a Bridge. Talk about how each of us are the same in many ways. Such as, many of ride the bus to school, play games, and go to school. Then, talk about ways we are different, such as, the types of families we come from, our beliefs, and our feelings.

Each person chooses a block to help build the bridge. On their block they write: the topic of concern they are writing a speech about, and one way they can help to build a bridge to help solve the problem.

Day Six--Taking Action Posters

Barbara Jordan often gave speeches, and continually looked for ways to act out and be an example for what she believed in. It is important for students to realize that caring about an issue simply is not enough. If you don't do anything to change or support the things you believe in then others may do something for you, and you may not agree with it. It is important that your voice is heard.

Have each student think about the area of tolerance they are studying for their speech. Have them create a poster to go along with their speech. Each poster should have some type of slogan that is thought provoking. For example: Choose your socks by their color and your friends by their character, one person can make a difference, take a stand, or silence is acceptance. Have them draw and illustration to depict what they might do to take social action on this topic.

If possible have the posters displayed around town in such places as the grocery store, businesses, and doctors offices.

Day Seven to Fourteen--Sharing

Share speeches on tolerance. Followed by a class discussion. Sit in a circle and let students share the feelings about what we have talked about. Have them discuss how the different activities made them feel. What have they learned during this unit that they didn't know before. In what ways will they continue to show what they have learned?


1-Each student will be responsible for turning in a list of 3 contributions Barbara Jordan made to our country.

2-Journals will be turned in for assessment on the days noted. Journals will not be graded, but will be evaluated to see the amount of thought and effort they are putting forth to understand themselves better.

3-Think Pair Share will be evaluated informally. Each individual should be working as part of the group to help generate the list of characteristics for which people might experience prejudice.

4-Speaking skills activity will be assessed using the journal entry for that day which should include topic ideas, and the three main parts of a speech. A students actual speaking skills will be assessed on the day of the speech according to the assessment rubric. (See Appendix)

5-Discrimination Simulation will be assessed informally by the teacher. Each student will be required to participate both in the activity and discussion (unless their parents have requested they do not participate).

6-Each student must contribute a building block piece to the bulletin board listing their speech topic and what they can do to build a bridge.

7-Each taking action poster will be given credit, and displayed in the community given if it has a slogan that provokes thought, and illustrates their concern related to promoting tolerance.


Begaye, Lisa Shook. (1993). Building a Bridge. Flagstaff: Northland Publishing Company.

Bullard, Sara. (1996). Teaching Tolerance--Raising Open-Minded, Empathetic Children. New York: Doubleday.

Byrnes, Deborah A. (1995). "Teacher They Called Me a !". New York: Defamation League.

Clinton, William. (1996). Remarks by the President at Funeral Services for Former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. [On-line]. Available: http://www2.whitehouse.gov/WH/New/other/bjordan.html.

Geisel, Theodore S. (1961). The Sneetches and Other Stories. New York: Random House.

Graham, Judith. (1993). Current Biography Yearbook. Pgs: 289-293. New York: H.W. Wilson Company.

Jackson-Lee, Ms. (1996). Tribute to the late Hon. Barbara Jordan. [On-line]. Available: http://www.elf.net/bjordan/jackson-lee.html.

Women in Political Life. (1995). Pgs. 94-96. Huntington Beach: Teacher Created Materials Inc.



Journal Entries:

Day One: What does it mean to be prejudice? Is it the same thing as disliking someone? Why or why not? List at least three characteristics for which people might experience prejudice. (Assessed)

Day Two: Map out some of the ideas that you are considering for your speech. List possible places to find information. Also, list the three basic parts of a speech. (Assessed)

Days Three and Four: How did today's activity make you feel? What do you know about prejudice now, that you did not know before this activity. If you would like, you can draw a picture that depicts your feelings

Day Five: List five things that are of interest to you. Do you think people you same age in another culture might have similar interests?

Day Six: Do you think that it is important to speak out on things we believe in? Why or why not? Brainstorm things you can do to take action and make it better. (Relate this to the topic you are studying for your speech.)

Day Seven through Fourteen: React to at least one speech given today. Do you think the issue discussed is a real problem that requires action? Any new feelings? What did you learn today?

Speech Evaluation Rubric:

Did the student speak loud enough for all to hear? 1 2 3 4
Did the student speak clearly? 1 2 3 4
Did the speech contain a body, conclusion, ending? 1 2 3 4
Did the speech relate to topic of tolerance? 1 2 3 4

1-Not at all

Patterns for building blocks