The voice is still there. Strong. Confident. Full of conviction.
It is the voice of Barbara Jordan, the former congresswoman from Texas, who made history as the politically dynamic African-American woman who sat on the House Judiciary
Committee during the 1974 Nixon impeachment hearings. Hers was also the voice that commanded attention and respect when she delivered the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Ms. Jordan will deliver the 1992 George Huntington Williams Memorial Lecture tonight at Johns Hopkins University.
Professor Jordan, as she is called these days, left politics in 1978 without explanation -- deciding not to run for a fourth term at the height of her popularity. The Houston native, who now must use a wheelchair or walker to get around, does not talk about her health except to say that she feels fine. She has been teaching at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin since 1979.
Leaving politics was a deliberate choice. "In my opinion, the democracy is renewed, or refreshed, by new blood," she said in a telephone interview from Austin.
Although it has been more than a decade since Ms. Jordan, 56, left the national political scene, her views are still in demand. "Clearly, she is still a very important part of the political process, in the sense that she is an articulate and perceptive observer of the American scene," said Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for Hopkins.
"She almost is a legend," said George Buntin Jr. the executive director of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. "She has been a real freedom fighter who is surely missed in the Congress. I am glad she will be here in this city."
What Professor Jordan has observed over the years since her departure from Washington, has both encouraged and dismayed her.
On civil rights:
"Regrettably, the issue of civil rights has been placed on the back burner of active policy agenda," she said when asked where things stand now. The "Reagan/Bush years" have certainly added to that but continuing dismal economic conditions, she said, always exacerbate tensions between races.
Yet, the self-described eternal optimist remains encouraged. "I do indeed feel optimistic," she said. "We even have something called a black middle class now. How about that?" There is still, the professor admits, much more work that needs to be done.
On the political ramifications of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings:
"Those hearings are just about to be played out politically," said Ms. Jordan who believes that senators who voted in favor of placing Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court will find it hard to keep their jobs.
She points to the recent primary win in Illinois by Carol Mosely Braun over incumbent Sen. Alan J. Dixon. Ms. Braun reportedly drew votes from people angry that the two-term senator had voted in favor of Judge Thomas sitting on the Supreme Court.
On womens' rights:
"Women are in a good position right now," she said. "They are on the city council, they are mayors." (In her home state of Texas, a woman -- Ann Richards -- is the governor.)
"Women are percolating up through the political process," Professor Jordan said. "I am very encouraged."
And, yes, Ms. Jordan envisions it's only a matter of time when a woman will run for president. "I expect to see it in my lifetime," she said.
When not traveling and speaking, her classes on ethics and policy development at the university keep her busy. They are so popular that there is a waiting list of up to two years and some students never get in, said Courtney Brown, the assistant director of the Office of Student Affairs.
"Quite frankly, I have seen people get quite upset when told they are not getting in the class," Ms. Brown said. "I think it is fair to say that she is the most popular professor in the university. And not just because she is luminary. Her classes are excellent," said Ms. Brown who took both classes as a student.
Barbara Jordan doesn't quite know why interest in her life and opinions remains so strong.
"I don't know," she said. "but I hope it's because people want to hear what I have to say."
Barbara Jordan to speak
Former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan will deliver the 1992 George Huntington Williams Memorial lecture at Johns Hopkins University tonight.
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: Shriver Hall Auditorium, 3400 N. Charles St.