This segment of a television broadcast of the National Women's Conference of 1977 captures scenes of Barbara Jordan's keynote speech on women's rights. The Conference was held at the Sam Houston Coliseum from November 18-21, 1977 to address a variety of women's issues, including the Equal Rights Amendment, child care, abortion rights, insurance, health, homemakers, sexual preference, and minority women's rights. Dr. Jordan's powerful speech brought all 2,000 delegates and the stage full of other high profile speakers to their feet.
Barbara Jordan was born in Houston's Fifth Ward in 1936, the daughter of a Baptist minister and domestic worker. Jordan attended Texas Southern University where she was a member of the debate team; she was the first woman to travel with the team, and along with debate partner Otis King, integrated tournaments in the South, consistently sweeping competitions. Jordan went on attend Boston University School of Law, finishing in 1959. After practicing private law in Houston, she entered the political arena. Jordan was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate since 1883 and the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1976, Jordan was the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, a speech that is still lauded as one of the best in modern history. After retiring from politics in 1979, Jordan taught ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Among many other honors, Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. In 1996, Barbara Jordan died of complications from pneumonia, a result of her battles with both multiple sclerosis and leukemia. She rests in the Texas State Cemetery, the first African-American woman to be buried there.
The National Women's Conference was held in Houston, Texas on November 18-21, 1977. Organized in response to a 1975 United Nations declaration that 1975 be the "International Year of the Woman" (later extended to "International Decade for Women"), President Gerald Ford established a National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year "to promote equality between men and women," US Representatives Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink sponsored a bill that approved $5 million dollars in federal funds to support both state and national women's conferences. The state conferences would be responsible for electing delegates to the national conferences and for consideration of issues that would be voted on at the national conference. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Bella Abzug as presiding officer of the aforementioned commission, which put the state conferences in motion and culminated with the national conference later that year.
On November 18, 1977, 2,000 state delegates and some 20,000 observers kicked off the conference. Speakers included Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Coretta Scott King, Liz Carpenter, Jean Stapleton, and First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson. Texas Governor Ann Richards, then a Travis County commissioner, was also present and spoke regarding the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Houston native Barbara Jordan was chosen to deliver the keynote address. Her rousing keynote address brought the audience to its feet with these lines:
"Human rights apply equally to Soviet dissidents, Chilean peasants, and American women! Women are human. We know our rights are limited. We know our rights are violated. We need a domestic human rights program. This conference should be the beginning of such an effort, an effort that would be enhanced if we would not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by people who predict chaos and failure for us. Tell them they lie -- and move on."
Delegates debated and collectively voted on 26 issues, including the ERA, child care, abortion rights, insurance, health, homemakers, sexual preference, rights of the disabled, elderly women's rights, and minority women's rights. The resulting National Plan of Action was submitted to President Carter and Congress in March 1978, and a month later the National Advisory Committee for Women was established.
For more about the National Women's Conference, its National Plan of Action, and Texas attendees, visit our web exhibit, "Women on the Move: Texas and the Fight for Women's Rights": https://www.womenonthemovetx.com/