While much of the south was in turmoil during the Civil Rights Movement, of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, Houston headed for a more peaceful, low profile end to Jim Crow. What is little known outside of civil rights veterans is that Houston was just a few weeks later than Greensboro, North Carolina with its lunch counter sit-in downtown in 1960.
More recognition is due to Eldrewey Stearns and other leaders connected with Texas Southern University who organized and exerted peaceful, effective pressure on the white Houston power structure. To the credit of all concerned, an end to Jim Crow segregation of all downtown facilities was quickly implemented days before the world tuned into Houston for its grand opening of the Astrodome, the world’s first indoor stadium capable of hosting baseball, football, and rodeos.
Had the un-Jim Crowing of Houston not happened before the grand opening, it is doubtful that Houston would have won congressional funding to make NASA headquarters here, (nor would the Texas Medical Center receive as many federal research grants). After all, NASA was the trophy America used to represent “the highest ideals of civility and best interests of man” to the rest of the world.
After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, the Supreme Court required southern states to reapportion their electoral districts. So in 1966, Barbara Jordan, a young lawyer and Texas Southern alumnus, was the first African American to win a state senate seat. An eloquent and commanding orator, Jordan went on to be a shinning light for the state, as she introduced the first Texas minimum wage bill, and set up the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission.
In 1972, Jordan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She proved worthy on the position immediately. With her impeccable integrity and brilliant oratory skills she verbally dispatched many an elder white male Congressman. She co-lead the struggle that eventually impeached President Richard Nixon. Her success in Congress helped elevate Black Congresspersons access to committees of leadership. Even conservatives acknowledged her as a possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate, until chronic illness led her to give up her Congressional seat.