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Save Texas History

Female Top Texan nominees cover a wide range of backgrounds.

My Top Texan — Barbara Jordan

By Brian Bolinger, Chief Executive Officer of the Texas State Historical Association

It’s everyone’s favorite time of the year. No, not March Madness or Spring Break — it’s time for the Top Texan tournament! Each year, the General Land Office (GLO) collects suggestions for the most notable figure to emerge from Lone Star history, and 64 of these Texans then face off in the Top Texan bracket. It’s always fascinating to see which Texans make the bracket for the year, and it’s fun to see which of my predictions I get wrong and, more importantly, which predictions I get right.

There’s a good variety of Texans this year; from underdogs like James L. Farmer Jr. and Jane McCallum to fan favorites like Willie Nelson or William B. Travis, a lot of Texans have shown up to compete for the title of Top Texan. I get the sense from the Top Texan pundits and commentators that we might see another victory from the likes of Stephen F. Austin or Sam Houston, who helped to build the foundation of this state. But those two choices are a little too easy, don’t you think? March is also Women’s History Month, after all, so I think we should take a look at some of the leading ladies that have found their way on the bracket too.

Who’s going to win in the battle of the musicians: Selena or Janis Joplin? Or will another artist take the prize altogether? Like Elisabet Ney, the German-born Texan sculptor whose works are still exhibited all over the place, including the Elisabet Ney Museum, right here in Austin.

Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson provided invaluable testimony about the events of the fall of the Alamo and the Texans who died defending it.

Maybe the results will move in another direction. Who remembers the Alamo? Everyone does, and we have preservationists such as Adina de Zavala, Mary Maverick, and Clara Driscoll who toiled to restore and ensure that the historic Alamo mission would remain standing, a landmark and icon. But we may not even have remembered the Alamo at all if it weren’t for Susanna Dickinson one of the few survivors of the Battle of the Alamo who provided firsthand accounts of the siege for the rest of her life.

Babe Zaharias put on a legendary performance at the 1932 Olympics and later founded the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association.

But who could forget icons like Babe Zaharias or Bessie Coleman? Trailblazers in their own rights, Zaharias broke records in three different events at the 1932 Olympics and founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association after casually winning seventeen consecutive golf tournaments. Meanwhile, Coleman became the first licensed African American pilot in the world in 1921. Determined to achieve her pilot’s license after realizing that no pilot’s school in America would accept black students, she moved to France and studied for ten months before finally earning her license.

Ma Ferguson and Ann Richards served the state of Texas as Governor.

I heard that James Harkins over at the GLO picked Sam Houston as the Top Texan for another year in a row. Sure, the guy did a lot for Texas, but that seems like a pretty obvious choice to me. Too obvious, maybe. There are so many worthy Texans on the bracket who deserve to be Top Texan, like Ma Ferguson or Ann Richards, but I think it’s time to give the crown to someone else, which is why I’m picking Barbara Jordan this year.

Brian’s Top Texan, Barbara Jordan,

Barbara Jordan was a woman of many firsts. Born and raised in Houston before attending and graduating from Boston University in 1959 with a degree in law, she returned to Houston and practiced law for several years prior to becoming involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In 1967, she was elected the first African American state senator, eventually rising to the position of president pro tempore of the Senate in 1972. In 1973, she became the first African American female from a southern state to be elected to the United States Congress. After participating in the 1974 Watergate hearings, she was the first woman to deliver the keynote address of the Democratic National Convention in 1976. Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and took a professorship at the University of Texas. She also continued to serve the public in a variety of roles. Highlighting her life and career, Jordan was inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. Seriously, what is there not to love about Barbara Jordan?[1]

Voters: good luck. I guess we’ll see who the real Top Texan is on April 4th. Now go out there and show your support for your favorite Texan!

[1] Handbook of Texas Online, Mark Odintz, “Jordan, Barbara Charline,” accessed March 13, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjoas. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on March 28, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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