Exhibit honoring legacy of Barbara Jordan opens in Capitol

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Janice Peyton, left, and Rose Mary McGowan celebrate the life and legacy of Barbara Jordan on her 80th birthday.

Photo Credit: Jesse Hanna

To commemorate the legacy of the late civil rights legend Barbara Jordan, the Barbara Jordan Freedom Foundation opened an interactive exhibit chronicling her life’s work on Monday, the day after what would have been her 80th birthday.

The exhibit, held in the rotuna of the Texas Capitol Building, uses audiovisual and photographic content contributed by the Lynden B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Jordan’s alma matter, Texas Southern University, and showcases a wide range of moments from her career and civil rights efforts.

Jordan’s sister, Rose Mary McGowan, said this breadth of information is what makes the exhibit meaningful to visitors.

“[The exhibit] tells the history of Barbara Jordan, from early childhood and her steps over the years to the [Texas] Senate, to her time in the [U.S.] House of Representatives,” McGowan said, “Then her professorship at the LBJ School — together, it gives the historical perspective.”

Boards lining the walls include photos and quotes that add detail to the history of Jordan’s career. Jordan, who is revered for her rousing speeches, would often revise her speeches multiple times prior to delivering them to add intensity, Janice Peyton, a TSU librarian, said. 

“We have some of her manuscripts that were typed where she did manual strikeovers to correct the language she would use,” Peyton said. “And some of the words just became stronger and stronger and stronger.”

Visitors to the exhibit will be able to take away a lot about Jordan’s character and the extent of her achievements, David Warner, a professor in the LBJ School, said.

“I think [visitors] can learn about her dedication and her high personal ethics, combined with her ability to talk to and work with anybody,” Warner said, “And, really, the amount that she achieved in a relatively short period of time.”

Regarding today’s political issues, Peyton said she’s confident Jordan would’ve taken a bold stand.

“She was so grounded in constitutional law, she was such a principled person that she saw things as either right or wrong,” Peyton said, “There was very little grey area — it’s either contitutional, or it’s unconstitutional.”

Warner said much of Jordan’s success in government was because of her ability to collaborate.

“She was very effective at forming coalitions, even with very conservative legislators,” Warner said. “She was somebody who really believed in achieving something.”

The exhibit will be open until Feb. 27. It is free and open to the public.