American Portraits

Barbara Jordan, Watergate, and Justice

In this lesson, students will learn how Barbara Jordan sought justice during the Watergate scandal. They will also learn how they can protect justice in their lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.


Barbara Jordan was born in Houston, Texas on February 21, 1936. She possessed a strong desire to achieve academic success and graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School with honors. She attended Texas Southern University, and then graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1959. Barbara Jordan achieved many successes as an African-American woman. She was the first African-American to be elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction; the first black, female southern member of the U.S. House of Representatives; and the first African-American woman to address the Democrat National Convention, doing so in 1976 and then again in 1992….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you seek justice to protect freedom?

Virtue Defined

Justice is the capacity to determine and preserve our common rights.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn how Barbara Jordan sought justice during the Watergate scandal. They will also learn how they can protect justice in their lives.


  • Students will analyze the efforts of Barbara Jordan to protect and promote justice during the Watergate scandal.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of justice towards promoting and seeking justice in their own lives.


Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States in 1968. During his first term as president, he introduced a number of changes in both domestic and foreign policy. When he ran for re-election in 1972, the incumbent Nixon had a significant lead over the very liberal Democratic challenger, George McGovern. Still, Nixon was consumed with winning and decided he would do anything to ensure victory. He authorized the break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Five men were arrested on June 17, 1972, which led to a series of illegal activities. Members of the administration destroyed evidence, and Nixon sought to obstruct the FBI investigation. Hush money was paid out to keep people silent.

Two reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reported the story and won the confidence of a source in the FBI who revealed the administration’s involvement. Nixon was re-elected by an overwhelming landslide in 1972, but Congress opened up investigations and hearings in the spring and summer of 1973. Barbara Jordan, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, would soon become involved in the attempt to uncover the truth in the scandal.


  • Incumbent
  • Obstruct
  • Confidence
  • Landslide
  • Subpoena
  • House Judiciary Committee
  • Revelations
  • Impeachment
  • Defer
  • Remedy
  • Usurpation
  • Somberly
  • Grave
  • Transparently
  • Idle
  • Diminution
  • Subversion
  • Rhetoric
  • Contempt
  • Rule of law
  • Unflinching
  • Quest

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Barbara Jordan?
  • What was her role in the Watergate scandal?
  • What did she do to ensure justice was upheld in the United States?
  • How did Barbara Jordan seek to advance freedom for herself and others?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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