ATLANTA (AP) – Vernon Jordan, who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to become a civil rights champion before reinventing himself as a Washington insider and corporate influencer, has died, according to a statement from his girl. He was 85 years old.
Jordan’s daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams, released the statement to CBS News on Tuesday.
“My father passed away at around 10 p.m. last night surrounded by his relatives, his wife and daughter by his side,” she said.
After stints as field secretary for the Georgia NAACP and executive director of the United Negro College Fund, he became leader of the National Urban League, becoming the face of black America’s modern struggle for employment and justice for over a decade. He was nearly killed by a racist bullet in 1980 before moving on to business and politics.
His friendship with Bill Clinton took them both to the White House. Jordan was an unofficial assistant to Clinton, which got him into controversy during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
After growing up in the Jim Crow South and living much of his life in a segregated America, Jordan took a strategic view of race issues.
“My take on all of this race stuff is never to get angry, no, but to get revenge,” Jordan said in a New York Times interview in July 2000. “You don’t take it out. with anger ; you pull it out successfully.
Jordan was the first lawyer to lead the Urban League, which was traditionally run by social workers. Under Jordan’s leadership, the Urban League added 17 more chapters and its budget grew to over $ 100 million. The organization has also broadened its reach to include voter registration campaigns and conflict resolution between blacks and law enforcement.
He resigned from the Urban League in 1982 to become a partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld.
Jordan was a key campaign advisor to Clinton during his first presidential campaign and co-chaired the Clinton transition team. He was the first black person to be given such a role.
His friendship with Clinton, which began in the 1970s, has evolved into a partnership and political alliance. He met Clinton as a young politician in Arkansas, and the two bonded because of their Southern roots and poor upbringing.
Although Jordan did not hold any official role in the Clinton White House, he was very influential and had labels such as “first friend”. He approached Colin Powell to become Secretary of State and encouraged Clinton to pass the NAFTA agreement in 1993. Jordan also got a job at Revlon for Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern whose sex with the president caused a scandal.
Jordan’s actions briefly caught the attention of federal prosecutors investigating Clinton’s actions, but he was ultimately not mentioned in a final report released by Special Prosecutor Ken Starr.
Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr., was born in Atlanta on August 15, 1935, the second of three sons of Vernon and Mary Belle Jordan. Until the age of 13, the family lived in social housing. But he was exposed to Atlanta’s elite through his mother, who worked as a caterer for many of the city’s wealthy citizens.
Jordan attended DePauw University in Indiana, where he was the only black in his class and one of five in college. Distinguished by his studies, his oratory and his athleticism, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1957 and continued his studies at Howard University School of Law in Washington. There he married his first wife, Shirley Yarbrough.
The young couple moved to Atlanta after Jordan graduated with a law degree in 1960, and Jordan became a clerk for civil rights attorney Donald Hollowell, who successfully represented two black students – Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter – tempting to enter the University of Georgia. In an iconic photograph, Jordan, a towering 6ft, 4in, is seen holding off the white crowd who tried to stop Hunter from starting his first day of class.
In 1961 Jordan became Georgia Field Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. During his two years in that role, Jordan built new chapters, coordinated protests, and boycotted companies that would not employ black people.
Jordan moved to Arkansas in 1964 and went into private practice. He also became director of the Southern Regional Council’s voter education project. During his tenure, millions of new blacks registered to vote and hundreds of blacks were elected in the South.
Jordan considered running for the fifth seat of the Georgia Congressional District in 1970, but was selected that year to lead the United Negro College Fund. Holding the position for just 12 months, Jordan used his fundraising skills to fill the organization’s coffers with $ 10 million to help historically black college and university students.
In 1971, following the death of Whitney Young Jr., Jordan was named the fifth president of the National Urban League, which is dedicated to empowering African Americans to enter mainstream economics and society.
“I think working with the Urban League, NAACP, PUSH, and SCLC is the highest form of service you can give to black people,” Jordan said in a December 1980 interview in Ebony Magazine. “And if you serve black people, you also serve the country. So if I’m doing a good job here, black people aren’t the only beneficiaries; the country too. The country has a vested interest in black people doing well. “
The high-level position brought him into the crosshairs of a racist in May 1980 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jordan was shot dead with a hunter’s rifle outside his hotel after returning from dinner following a speech.
Jordan has had five surgeries and was visited by President Jimmy Carter during his three month recovery in hospital.
“I’m not scared and I won’t stop,” Jordan told Ebony after the shoot.
Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a massacre across the country from 1977 to 1980, later admitted to shooting Jordan. He was never prosecuted in the Jordan case, but was put to death in 2013 for another murder in Missouri.
Jordan left the organization in 1981, but said his departure was unrelated to the shooting.
In 2000, Jordan joined New York investment firm Lazard Frères & Co. as a senior managing partner. The following year he published an autobiography, “Vernon Can Read !: A Memoir”. Also in 2001, Jordan received the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor bestowed on a black American for outstanding achievement.
He has received more than 55 honorary degrees, including those from his two alma maters, and has served on several boards of directors.