Born in Houston, Texas's Fifth Ward, she did not like being passive in Texas politics. In 1952, she graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School. She would then graduate as Magna Cum from Texas Southern University in 1956. She then graduated from Boston University Law School in 1959.
She lost her race to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962, and she lost again in 1964 for the race to the legislature. Her persistence got her a seat in the state senate in 1966, becoming the first African-American senator since the Reconstruction. She had extensive support from Lyndon B. Johnson, the Governor at the time. She got a second term in the senate in 1968. Her Governor-for-a-day act in 1972 won her the title of being the first African-American woman to head a state government. She would be elected to the United States Senate in the same year.
In 1973, she started to suffer from a neurological impairment. This would eventually confine her to a wheelchair. In 1974, she made a well known speech against Richard Nixon, and she got a second term in the senate. In 1976, she made a speech at the Democratic national convention and won a third term in the Senate. She retired from politics in 1979 and became a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and was a speaker at subsequent Democratic national conventions. She would win the President Medal of Freedom before her death.