After two unsuccessful campaigns, Barbara Jordan was elected to the Texas Senate, becoming the first African-American since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in the state’s senate. In 1972, she was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tempore of the state senate. She also served one day — June 10, 1972 — as acting governor of Texas, making her the first African-American woman to serve as governor of a state. Also in 1972, Barbara was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. After serving to two years, she delivered a televised speech supporting the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. In 1976, her name was mentioned as a running mate for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. Although she was not selected, she did become the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Barbara retired from politics in 1979, taking a teaching position at the University of Texas.
Although she never discussed her private life publicly, The US National Archives acknowledges Barbara Jordan as the first LGBTQ woman to serve in Congress. In the 1960s, Barbara met Nancy Earl on a camping trip and two became a couple for over twenty years. Nancy sporadically wrote speeches for Barbara, but became her companion and later caregiver when the senator was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973. Nancy saved Barbara from drowning in their backyard swimming pool during a session of physical therapy.
Barbara passed way in 1979 at the age of 59 and was interred in the Texas State Cemetery. She was the first African-American to receive this honor. Barbara had once campaigned to allow African-Americans to be buried in the notoriously-restricted state cemetery. Her grave is near that of state founder and slave owner Stephen Austin.