I got to meet Barbara Jordan.

It was in Austin at a big conclave held at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.

I was on the front row of a very big auditorium because I had gotten there early. The subject of the day was the First Amendment. The event featured all kinds of notables from many walks of life, including politics and education. Big wheels.

But the one sitting down on the floor, not on the stage, was Barbara Jordan, on the first row right across the aisle from me.

I was trained as a journalist not to act like a fan but to be cool.

But this was Barbara Jordan! The woman who had been on the committee for the impeachment of President Nixon. The first Black woman elected to Congress.

I heard her wonderful voice on TV day by day during those televised hearings. If God were a woman, she would sound like Barbara Jordan.

I’ve heard she developed that voice, and the elegant manner that went along with it, during her debate team training at Texas Southern University.

So she was not only a great woman but a great Texan.

If I were going to build a throne for a queen, Barbara Jordan would sit on it.

I crossed the aisle, knelt down beside her, introduced myself and asked her how she was. (I knew she had been sick.)

She graciously told me she was doing better and thanked me for asking. Then I asked the question I wanted most to ask.

“During your career, did you find it more of a problem being Black or being a woman?”

I was sort of surprised by the answer. She said it was being a woman.

I should not have been surprised.

This is Black History Month. I think of George Washington Carver and Malcom X and Denzel Washington. A whole host of people who have contributed, in all kinds of ways, to our nation.

Back in my youth, I was pretty much oblivious to any race, including my own. It just wasn’t a topic.

Both my parents, I think, were really bigots. They didn’t associate with any people except white people.

I went to a segregated school. I knew there were schools for Black people. I just didn’t think about them.

I also went to a segregated college. It was a time when a lot of men were coming home from the military and North Texas was building Vet Villages like crazy. Vets and their families were moving in quickly. None of them, however, were Black.

Then I decided to take a course called “Race and Race Relations.” I not only felt compelled to take it, as a member of the class I eventually joined the NAACP.

I think my parents thought I was probably becoming a Communist.

But I learned a lot and made friends with Black people. Liked them. Eventually hugged some of them. Eventually that became comfortable, normal and natural.

I am suggesting that maybe people who spend all their time hating people of other races and religions ought to get to know them.

I don’t know how to achieve that. But it sure needs to happen.

Cathy Gillentine is a Daily News columnist. She can be reached at cathy.gillentine@comcast.net.

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(3) comments

John Campbell

Bravo !

Bailey Jones

[thumbup] I was raised in a very typical 1960s white family, attended segregated schools, lived in segregated suburbs, worked segregated jobs. After high school, my family literally exploded - my parents divorced and my dad married a Latina with 4 kids who became my siblings, I later married a black woman with a black child that I still consider to be my daughter, even though the marriage didn't last. One sister married into the Mormons, another into Judaism. Our family is now black and brown and white, Mormon, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist, straight, gay and trans, conservative and liberal. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thomas Carpenter

Traveling around the country and visiting foreign lands mitigates home grown prejudices for most people. Experiencing the thrill of suddenly living as a stranger in a strange land opens the mind to a panoply of new possibilities and provokes an awareness that our world offers a rich tapestry of fascinating cultures filled with incredible people. If it proves difficult to travel, then read read read! No matter one's age, a curious mind can enjoy the adventure of discovery vicariously. Barbara Jordan became one of those incredible people who worked tirelessly to change the world to benefit everyone.

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