S. 13 originals. She wasn't even the first speaker of the night. In planning for the 1976 Democratic National Convention, the party's chairman, Robert Strauss, thought it best not to have one but two keynote speakers at Madison Square Garden. One would be an American icon, John Glenn of Ohio, the other would be an American original, Barbara Jordan of Texas. Has it turned out originality trumped iconography? John Glenn was a lovely, brave man, but nobody remembers a word he said in that bicentennial summer.
Representative Jordan, however, emerged as the enduring voice of a changing nation. It was a moment rich in both symbolism and in substance, as Robert Strauss escorted Jordan to the podium on Monday, July 12th, 1976, a band played deep in the heart of Texas.
This is by far the biggest ovation anyone has received here in the opening session of the Democratic and. Those kind of inventions really come alive on the first night when Barbara Jordan, Congresswoman. Ladies and gentlemen, in case you know. Present our second keynote speaker, the Honorable Barbara Jordan, Democrat of Houston, Texas.
At last, the audience settled in and what they heard was the American creed rendered in prose poetry intoned by a deep and beautiful, even haunting voice, a biblical voice, the voice of a woman, the voice of a black woman, the voice of a Southerner from a previously segregated state, the voice of a nation seeking to do better in spite of itself.
We are a people in a quandary about the president, we are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community.
We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present unemployment, inflation, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America.
We are attempting to fulfill our national purpose, to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal. I'm Jon Meacham, and this is it was said Episode seven, Barbara Jordan, your keynote speaker. She became someone that Democrats generally looked up to, and I think a lot of people in the country looked up to, she knows that by virtue of the fact that she's the first black woman who was born in segregation giving this speech, it's emblematic of what everyone is hoping is a new birth of American freedom.
You know, the power of Barbara Jordan, this black woman, giving voice to this idea of a robust understanding of our being together to have her announce her faith in the Constitution when she could have done something different I think is enormously important to people.
Another point I should like to make very briefly, like every member of the House and Senate assembled here tonight, I was elected to the office that I hope. And like every member of the House and Senate. When I was elected to that office, I knew that I was elected for the purpose of doing a job and doing it as well as I possibly can. And I want you to know. But I have no intention, whatever of ever walking away from the job that the people elected me to do for the people of the.
Barbara Jordan had come to broad national attention in the impeachment summer of 1974, Richard Nixon was facing removal from office, and Jordan, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, spoke truth to power. She said earlier today we heard the beginning of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. We the people, it's 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. Today, I am an inquisitor and I probably would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemn this that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole.
It is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.
Her journey to the podium at Madison Square Garden was rooted in distant Texas. Born in Houston in nineteen thirty six to a family of ministers and teachers, Barbara Charlene Jordan was shaped by her grandfather's teachings as she recalled it, he drilled this lesson into her on Sunday evenings. 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.
The Christian inspired principal led Jordan into politics. She became the first black person elected to the Texas State Senate since Reconstruction and in nineteen seventy two was the first black southern woman elected to the US House of Representatives. There were so few African-Americans in Congress then compared to what we have now, certainly African-American women, that when she came to Congress, she was an immediate presence.
This is the long time political consultant and speechwriter Robert Shrum.
But then what she did on the impeachment hearings made her a star and more than a star. It made her a very serious person, someone with a deeply penetrating intellect who could ask really tough and provocative questions. She became someone that Democrats generally looked up to.
And I think a lot of people in the country looked up to her as she recalled her grandfather taught her that the message of Jesus is don't get sidetracked and be like everybody else. Do what you're going to do on the basis of your own ingenuity. He was also saying that you couldn't trust the world out there. You couldn't trust them. So you had to figure things out for yourself, but you had to love humanity even if you couldn't trust it.
That's what he said. The message of Jesus is.
She was a star. Her origins coming from Texas, a place that's very difficult and has been very difficult for black people, but has produced a lot of black leaders.
This is the historian and professor Annette Gordon Reed. I think it was important because at a time when it was pretty divisive, I mean, we think of today being a divisive time, but we always had those periods in American history to have her announce her faith in the Constitution of the United States when she could have done something different. That could have been a different path to take. I think is enormously important to people. And she was right. She had the benefit of being right about what she was saying and bringing a great amount of moral clarity to that situation.
It was thrilling. And black people saw her as a role model for someone when we were very, very proud. Seventy five million people were watching Jordan as she addressed the Democratic convention in July of 76, such gatherings are notoriously difficult for speakers. Delegates were hardly a rapt audience in those days. They smoked and chatted, occasionally lending an ear to the podium. But Jordan was different. Thank you. As she recalled, I looked up and people were not milling around, all milling stopped.
Now, really, the response was startling and so were her words.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for a very warm reception. It was one hundred and forty four years ago that members of the Democratic Party first met in convention to select a presidential candidate. Since that time, Democrats have continued to convene once every four years and draft the party platform and nominate a presidential candidate and are meeting. This week is a continuation of that tradition. But there is something different about tonight. There is something special about tonight, what is different, what is special?
I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker. When Barbara Jordan gives the first keynote by an African-American at any major political party in 1976, the country is still trying to heal itself from the wounds of Watergate and the wounds of Vietnam and really even the wounds of the civil rights and black power years.
This is the author and professor of history at the University of Texas, Peniel Joseph.
So in a lot of ways, it's a country seeking a new identity. And in a way, 1976 is so powerfully important because it's going to be the second centennial of the founding of the country. And Barbara Jordan's keynote in a lot of ways, where she's talking about citizenship, she's talking about the party that believes in equality. She talks about governing in that speech. And she knows that by virtue of the fact that she's the first black woman who was born in segregation in Houston, Texas, giving this speech, it's emblematic of what everyone is hoping is a new birth of American freedom in 1976.
She's a state senator from Texas.
She becomes a congresswoman, a three term congresswoman from the state of Texas, among the first class of black elected officials after reconstruction.
It really speaks to this idea of a new chapter in American democracy and the birth of a new American freedom that's reflected in a Democratic Party that is now fully embracing the tradition of the Grand Old Party, which is the tradition of abolitionism, the tradition of anti slavery.
A lot of years passed since 1832. And during that time, it would have been most unusual for any national political party to ask a Barbara Jordan to deliver a keynote address. But tonight, here I am and I feel. I feel that notwithstanding the past, that my presence here is one additional bit of evidence that the American dream need not forever be deferred. So when we talk about 1976, Barbara Jordan's key note is the end of the political realignment by 1976, certainly the Democratic Party becomes the party of abolition, becomes the party of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
And Barbara Jordan's keynote is reflective of that.
Now, now that I have this grand distinction, what in the world am I supposed to say? I could easily spend this time praising the accomplishments of this party and attacking the Republicans, but I don't choose to do that, I could list the many problems which Americans have. I could list the problems which caused people to feel cynical, angry, frustrated problems which include lack of integrity in government, the feeling that the individual no longer counts, the reality of material and spiritual poverty, the feeling that the grand American experiment is failing or has failed.
I could recite these problems and then I could sit down and offer no solutions, but I don't choose to do that either. The citizens of America I expect more deserve and they want more than a recital of problems. You know, I think the fabric of the country had been frayed, the trust in government was at an all time low in some ways.
This is the author and professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, Eddie.
So there's a sense in which the country had faced a choice and was beginning to double down on a certain understanding of itself. And so there's the powerful moments now we must look to the future. She said, let us heed the voice of the people and recognize their common sense. Many fear the future. Many are distrustful of their leaders and believe that their voices are never heard. Many seek only to satisfy their private work, wants to satisfy their private interests.
But this is the great danger America faces, that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups, city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual, each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who then will speak for America? Who then will speak for the common good? This is the question which must be answered. A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.
A government is invigorated when each one of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this nation. In this election year, we must define the common good and begin again to shape a common future. Let each person do his or her part. If one citizen is unwilling to participate, all of us are going to suffer for the American ideal. Though it is shared by all of us is realized in each one of us. And you know that moment, but this is the great danger America faces that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups, city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual.
My God, that sounds so relevant today. And she says this is the question that must be answered. Who will speak for the common good? Who will speak for the common good? There is a sense that the power of Barbara Jordan, this black woman, giving voice to this idea of a robust understanding of our being together. I think there's always something coming out of the region of the south. Right, I mean, people talk about the heartland of America, but we know where the heart beat is.
You know, we've got an intimate sense of the contradiction of the country. Only a dozen years before such a moment, a Barbara Jordan keynoting a national convention would have seemed impossible. In 1964, Atlantic City, Lyndon Johnson and his party refused to recognize an integrated delegation from Mississippi for fear of driving the white south into the arms of Barry Goldwater. Perhaps the most memorable word spoken in that 1964 convention came not from the podium, but in a hearing room where Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi civil rights activist, eloquently argued for her basic right to vote.
And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated, no question it man is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have to sleep with that because my life being threatened daily, because we want to live a decent human being and a man. Thank you. The party had not listened then. Now, Barbara Jordan was center stage. First. We believe in equality for all and privileges for none. This is a belief, this is a belief that each American, regardless of background, has equal standing in the public forum.
All of us.
Because we believe this idea so firmly, we are an inclusive rather than an exclusive party. Let everybody come. We believe that the government, which represents the authority of all the people, not just one interest group, but all the people, has an obligation to actively underscore, actively seek to remove those obstacles, which would block individual achievement obstacles emanating from race, sex, economic condition. The government must remove them, seek to remove them. After the speech, Bob Strauss was exuberant, I told these sons of bitches she'd be the head of the convention, he said in a skybox afterward, I told them.
The Washington star wrote, she was there to bear witness to a dream they yearned to claim, and the congregation responded with an amen chorus that would do credit to the second coming. The New York Times observed that Jordan's odyssey was the road to success that white men had traveled since the country was founded. And the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin exalted Jimmy Carter, watching the Democrats love fest on TV and his Americana hotel suite could only feel lucky.
He won't have to follow Barbara Jordan's act for three days. Getting on the same podium with Miss Jordan is like trying to sing along with Marian Anderson. This is the question which must be answered in 1976, are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavour, or will we become a divided nation for all of its uncertainty? We cannot be the future. We must not become the new Puritans and reject our society. We must address and master the future together.
It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavour. It can be done. Let there be no illusions about the difficulty of forming this kind of a national community. It's tough, difficult, not easy, but a spirit of harmony will survive in America only if each of us remembers that we share a common destiny. There was a groundswell for Carter to name Jordan as his vice presidential running mate, but that nod went to Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
Nevertheless, the Democrats had found something of their soul on that Monday evening, even on the last night of the convention, as she stood with Carter and with Mondale. To the sounds of the FDR standard, happy days are here again. Jordan was greeted by cries. We want Barbra, we want Barbara. Barbara Jordan embodied a dream of America, a dream long deferred and deferred for too many, even now. But she and her words in nineteen seventy six remind us of what's possible in an America that lives up to the promise of its founding.
And looking back on her rise, Jordan would remark it seemed an impossibility to make any transition to the larger world out there, and yet she made that transition and in so doing showed us the way.
Now, I began this speech by commenting to you on the uniqueness of a Barbara Jordan making a keynote address. Well, I am going to close my speech by quoting a Republican president. And I ask you that as you listen to these words of Abraham Lincoln, relate them to the concept of a national community in which every last one of us. Participates as I would not be a slave. So I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy, whatever differs from this.
To the extent of the difference is no. Democracy. On the next episode of it was said in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Rodham Clinton travels to Beijing to argue that women's rights are human rights, setting new global priorities. Thank you for listening to it was said a creation and production of C 13 originals, a division of Caden's 13 in association with history executive produced by me, Jon Meacham and Chris Corcoran, directed by Lloyd Lockridge, edited, produced, engineered and mastered by Chris Bazil with production support and research by Bill Schulz and John McDermott and research assistants by Ian Mott.
Creative Consultation by Eli Lehrer and Jesse Katz. Graphic design, marketing and publicity by Josephine, Frances Kirk, Courtney and Hillary Schiff. Our theme song is I Can Almost See You by Hammock in our closing credits song is Light by Michael Kiwanuka.
We're miles apart, but safe. Don will always. To.