A two-part series: Senator David Lee Jordan, ‘a maladjusted man’ – Part 2: From a sharecropper’s son to an elector who helped make presidential history

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama during his Jackson visit

By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D.,

Contributing Writer,

Jordan – Civil Rights march – downtown Greenwood

Last week, our readers learned that Senator David Lee Jordan, who describes himself as ‘a maladjusted man’ to hatred, injustice, evil doings, etc., dispelled any rumors of his plan to retire.

Very active in the Civil Rights Movement, he said witnessing such unfair treatments of others has always deeply disturbed his spirit.

In this final part of the series on the historic Senator, The Mississippi Link explores his humble beginning and life/career experiences that are the driving force behind his relentless desire and pursuit for justice for all, especially “for my people” as he often adds unapologetically.

Jordan meets President Carter in Washington, DC, Oct. 1977

In the first chapter of his book, From the Mississippi Cotton Fields to the State Senate, A Memoir (with Robert L. Jenkins and Foreword by Mike Espy), Jordan, a first-time writer, shared the reality around his birth:

“I was born April 3, 1993, in a world quite different from the one we know today. I was born during a difficult era, in a decade known as the Great Depression. It was a period when the world saw the longest and deepest depression experienced by the industrialized world. It was clearly a miserable time, a period when nearly half of the children didn’t have adequate food, shelter, or even medical care. In the year of my birthday, national unemployment had reached its worse point” (p. 21).

The youngest of five children in a sharecropper’s home on the Whittington Plantation in Leflore County Mississippi, Jordan stresses that he was determined not to allow dismal, hard, and unfair times dictate his future. “I was referred to as ‘little nigger Jordan’ in reference to being a member of the Jordan family,” he says in his book. “It was quite degrading to be referred to in that manner,” he continued. 

Although a serious struggle to obtain amidst cotton picking demands, education was key to Jordan’s rise above such degradation. “There was a rule that children on the plantations couldn’t start school until all the cotton was picked. The school year lasted from December to April. It was already difficult learning under the conditions that we were subjected to and a short school session made it that much harder” (p. 32). There were no public schools on the plantation for African Americans. 

Jordan meets President Clinton, Washington, DC. May 10, 2000

In 1940, he began school in a country church called Traveler’s Rest at age seven. He would later attend one of the newly built Rosenwald schools, erected by a wealthy Jewish family in the South for African-American children. Back then seventh grade was considered high school. He enrolled in Stone Street High School, a public school for blacks in the city of Greenwood, but he had to start late due cotton picking times. Plus, he had also secured a part-time job to help his family.

Jordan shared that he and his siblings were determined to learn as much as they could “in order to prepare for a life away from the cotton field.”

That drive and determination for education paid off big for Jordan. He attended Mississippi Valley State University and the University of Wyoming. He served as a Mississippi Public School science teacher for 33 years. He also served on the Greenwood City Council, where he has also served has chairman. He also served as president and is still active in the Greenwood Voters League.

Jordan, US Army, 1979

However, the 30-year member of the Mississippi Legislature told The Mississippi Link that a crowning achievement of life was when he, as a presidential elector, during the roll call at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Co., on Aug. 27, 2008 cast Mississippi’s vote for the first black Democratic Party nominee for president, Barack Obama, who became the 44th President of the United States. President Obama was re-elected Nov. 6, 2012 for a second term. “It was indeed the highlight of my political career,” Jordan said. He said he has a huge published photo clipping of him casting that vote as a very valuable and endeared keepsake in his Greenwood home.

Jordan currently serves in the Mississippi Senate on the following committees: Drug Policy – Chair, Agriculture, County Affairs, Education, Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources, Finance, Housing, Municipalities and Tourism.

Jordan’s colleague, Sen. Hillman Frazier, District 27, said Jordan “brings a unique background to the body” (Legislature). Frazier referenced Jordan’s background in chemistry. “And, because of that background, he was appointed chairman of the Drug Policy Committee in the State Senate. That’s a very important thing.” Jordan’s expertise is extremely helpful. Frazier believes Jordan is the first African American to chair the Drug Policy Committee. 

Jordan’s house on Whitting Plantation

In this interview with The Mississippi Link Jordan explained that the federal government hands down new drugs each year, and before the state of Mississippi can used them, they must be approved by the Health Department of Mississippi. “Then we have to be put the federal regulations pertaining to them into law,” Jordan said. “The pharmacists all have to follow the federal regulations. It’s a very important committee.”

Frazier, who says has been in the Mississippi legislature 43 years himself, has known Jordan for more than 30 years. “He has been that long distance runner,” Frazier said. “He has been fighting for the little person for many, many years in the legislature.”

Jordan’s constituents share similar sentiment about his love for serving people.

“Senator Jordan has proven time after time that he is a senator for the people,” said Beulah Greer, executive director of the Community Students Learning Center (CSLC) of Lexington, Mississippi. CSLC is a non-profit 501 c 3 organization. “He would always use those words: “Senator for the people.”

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama during his Jackson visit

Espy had prior shared similar sentiments in his Foreword of Jordan’s book: “Because of his personal sacrifice during some very menacing times, and moreover, because of his victories that advanced multiple political civil rights causes, David Jordan has more than earned the title “A man of the people.”

Jordan, who also served in the U.S. Army, has sponsored and championed many pieces of legislations during his career. All of which he says have been in the best interest of the people. 

Two, among many, that he is most proud are the changing of the confederate state flag and instituting character education) (Senate Bill 2121) in the schools. “These are just basic principles our children need to know. They need to know how to say ‘thank you.’ They need to know how to appreciate compliments. They need to know how to persevere, and not just give up and wallow in despair simply because they have had some shortcomings. They need to know how to be respectful,” he told The Mississippi Link. “Character education is basic principles you need to know to be a success.” 

The Cotton gin where Jordan worked 1942-53 Whittington Plantation

“I had a major part in the changing of the state flag,” said Jordan. He stressed how long and hard they had fought for that legislation.

He also shared that he is the process of getting a statue done of Emmett Till which will be erected in downtown Greenwood in honor of his memory. It will also be a historical and educational reminder that Till’s cruel and outrageous death, due to racial hatred, was not in vain. It was the catalyst that sparked the Civil Rights Moment.

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