Houston Civil Rights Movement
While much of the south was in turmoil during the Civil Rights Movement, of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, Houston Civil Rights Movement was a more peaceful, low profile end to Jim Crow. What is little known outside of civil rights veterans is that Houston’s lunch counter sit-in was just a few weeks later than the famous Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter sit-in staged in February 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, Barbara Jordan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She proved worthy of the position immediately. With her impeccable integrity, preparation and brilliant oratory skills, she verbally dispatched many an elder white male Congressman. She co-led the struggle that eventually impeached President Richard Nixon. Her success helped elevate Congressional Black Caucus members’ access to leadership of committees. Even conservatives acknowledged her as a possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate, until chronic illness led her to give up her Congressional seat.
The struggle continued in the 1970s with strong leadership by Mickey Leland, who served six terms in the U.S. Congress, until his untimely death by plane crash in Ethiopia.