Culture / Newsy

Pioneering Houston Political Icon Gets a Meditative Monument at a Public Library — A Fitting Tribute Takes Shape

Gone But Never To Be Forgotten

BY // 08.10.23

A new monument honoring the late Barbara Jordan has been unveiled at the African American Library at the Gregory School in Houston. Community members and local representatives gathered for the opening of “The Meditative Space in Reflection of the Life and Work of the Late Barbara Jordan,” with the public artwork commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and dedicated to the legacy of the pioneering political icon.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston City Council member Abbie Kaman, Houston Public Library director Dr. Rhea Brown, members of the Houston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Jordan’s sister Rose Mary McGowan all showed for the special unveiling. Houston’s sixth Poet Laureate Aris Kian Brown performed a poem entitled How to Build a Bridge to mark the occasion.

"The Meditative Space" is made up of two curved glass panels that show Barbara Jordan's expansive legacy and impact. (Photo by Alex Barber)
“The Meditative Space” is made up of two curved glass panels that show Barbara Jordan’s expansive legacy and impact. (Photo by Alex Barber)

Created by artists Jamal Cyrus and Charisse Weston, this monument is a permanent reminder of Barbara Jordan’s contributions to Houston and the country. As the first African American woman elected to the Texas State Senate and the first African American to represent a Southern state in the U.S. House of Representatives, Jordan conducted trailblazing work defending the Constitution and advocating for minority and underserved communities. 

Barbara Jordan was among the inaugural class at Texas Southern University where she helped lead the debate team to national acclaim. After graduating magna cum laude, she went on to law school at Boston University. Her many notable accomplishments from her time as a public servant include her place on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate scandal, where she famously gave the opening statement in Nixon’s impeachment hearing. She also had a hand in hundreds of bills defending voting rights, rights for the disabled, access to health care and more.

Jordan also garnered deep respect among her colleagues both in Congress and in the Texas legislature.

Rose Mary McGowan speaks before an audience gathered to watch the unveiling of “The Meditative Space,” the monument dedicated to her sister, Barbara Jordan (Photo by Susan Nguyen)
Rose Mary McGowan speaks before an audience gathered to watch the unveiling of “The Meditative Space,” the monument dedicated to her sister, Barbara Jordan (Photo by Susan Nguyen) 

At the unveiling, Mayor Turner delivered an inspiring address, imploring the audience to carry on the spirit of Jordan’s work and emphasizing her roots in Houston’s Fifth Ward. 

“I hope you’ll carry the monument in your hearts and souls and be inspired to stand up,” Turner said. “Barbara Jordan would say you have the power to make a difference. Whether or not you use it is up to you.”

The shape of The Meditative Space is inspired by the Adrinka symbol sepow, which represents authority and justice. The two curved glass panels form an open circle, symbolizing how justice must be malleable to serve the people and Jordan’s unrelenting dedication to politics and law as tools for improving America.

The panels themselves feature archival photographs of Jordan,  grids rendered from old maps of Houston’s Fourth and Fifth Wards, and collages of her speeches. It is a moving representation of the whole of Barbara Jordan’s life, as well as a source of inspiration for future generations looking to create change as she did. 

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