She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1978 to 1980. On her death, she became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery--final resting place of Governors, Senators, Legislators, Congressmen, Judges and other legendary Texans who have made the state what it is today.
Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year. In 1960, she returned to Houston, passed the bar and started a private law practice.
Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives. She won a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body. Re-elected to a full term in the Texas Senate in 1968, she served until 1972. She was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tem of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas; albeit for one day, to date Jordan is the only African American woman to serve as governor of a state (excluding lieutenant governors). During her time in the Texas Legislature, Jordan sponsored or cosponsored some 70 bills.
In 1972, she was elected to Congress, the first woman to represent Texas in the House in her own right. She received extensive support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who helped her secure a position on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1974, she made an influential televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the process of impeachment of Richard Nixon, Johnson's successor as President. In 1975, she was appointed by Carl Albert, then Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia, became instead the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became an adjunct professor teaching ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. She again was a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.
In 1994 and until her death in 1996, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which advocated increased restriction of immigration, called for all U.S. residents to carry a national identity card and increased penalties on employers that violated U.S. immigration regulations. Then-President Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission's proposals. While she was Chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform she argued that "it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest." Opponents of modern U.S. immigration policy have cited her willingness to penalize employers who violate U.S. immigration regulations, tighten border security, oppose amnesty or any other pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and broaden the grounds for the deportation of legal immigrants. In 1994, President Clinton Awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and The NAACP presented her with the Springarn Medal. She was honored many times and was given over 20 honorary degrees from institutions across the country, including Harvard and Princeton, and was elected to the Texas and National Women's Halls of Fame.