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An Unlikely Hero

Memories of a daughter’s stand during the Civil Rights Movement

Chelsea Jones | 9/20/2013, 12:20 p.m.
Leiwanda Jordan, in green, stands behind her mother, Julia Jordan, and her two daughters in a family photo. Julia Jordan photo album

The Dallas Examiner

Watching her, one couldn’t tell that she’s 91 years old. Sitting on an elongated sofa in her quaint house filled with antiques, Julia K. Jordan, a retired Dallas ISD educator and counselor, flips through an album of old photographs. She stops at a page featuring a picture of a beautiful teenage girl dressed in a white debutante dress. The girl is Julia’s daughter, Leiwanda, who would later become a champion for equality during the Civil Rights Movement.

Marching for Justice

Leiwanda was in her sophomore year at Fisk University when Jordan’s brother, a pastor at the time, was attending a meeting in Columbus, Ohio. One night, he saw Leiwanda being thrown into a police car during a news broadcast. He immediately called Julia and her husband, Dr. Frank H. Jordan, to let them know what was going on.

“This was unbelievable,” Julia said. “We thought he had seen the wrong person.”

Julia’s husband called the university and learned that Leiwanda had gone with a group of students to march with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Frank bought Julia a plane ticket to Nashville and arranged for her to meet with an attorney after she arrived.

During the march, Leiwanda and the group were arrested. Since she was only 16 years old, she was placed in a juvenile detention center, while the other students, who were at least 18 years old, went to jail.

The NAACP told Julia that they were not responsible for paying the jail fines of minors, so she had to pay the fine to retrieve her daughter from the center. Afterward, Julia and the lawyer took Leiwanda back to school.

Nevertheless, Leiwanda wasn’t finished marching. She later joined two more marches and was jailed both times. At the court trial for her third arrest, the judge told Leiwanda that if she was arrested again, she would be sent to a “state home for wayward girls” until she was 21 years old.

Disheartened by the judge’s warning, Julia asked her daughter why she was participating in the marches, and if she knew that she was putting herself in danger and could potentially get killed.

“If I die, I die,” Julia stated was her daughter’s response. “I’m dying for a good cause. I’m dying for children who are not born yet, who need to be able to eat and drink at any public place they want to, who can play in any park they want to play in, or go to any school that they prefer. Even if I live, I’m marching for my children, but if I die, I die. And that’s what I’ve prepared myself for.”

This statement, Julia said, brought her to tears. She subsequently learned that Leiwanda had also participated in lunch counter sit-ins at some of the well-known 5- and 10-cent stores. Leiwanda told her mother that during one sit-in, policemen used lit cigars to burn her and a few other students in their backs.

“We could smell our own flesh burning and didn’t move,” Leiwanda said.