• Brandon Colvin

Remembering civil rights titan and political power broker, Vernon Jordan


Prominent civil rights attorney and professional power broker, Vernon Jordan, passed away Monday at 85. In a statement to NPR on Tuesday, Jordan's daughter, Vickee Jordan said her father, "passed away peacefully last evening surrounded by loved ones."


Jordan, an advisor to former President Bill Clinton, was born in Atlanta on August 15, 1935. After earning his law degree from Howard University, Jordan dedicated his career to social justice causes, joining the Atlanta-based law office of civil rights attorney and activist, Donald L. Hollowell. When Hollowell's office sued the University of Georgia for discriminatory admissions practices, Jordan served on the team of attorneys who supported the case. After a federal ruling on the case in support of desegregation, Jordan, also a field director for Georgia's NAACP, personally escorted the University of Georgia's first two Black students into the school's admissions office.


NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson expressed his admiration for Jordan and influence on civil rights, calling him, "an icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled."


In addition to years of service with the NAACP, Jordan also spent a decade as president of the National Urban League. He is credited with creating the first "State of Black America" report in 1976. While leading the organization, Jordan oversaw the growth of the National Urban League's annual budget to $100 million as well as the addition of 17 chapters to the Urban League's ranks.


In a statement, National Urban League president Marc Morial remembered Jordan valuable contributions to the organization. “The National Urban League would not be where it is today without Vernon Jordan. We have lost more than a leader; we have lost a brother," said Morial.


“The exceptional poise and dignity with which he carried himself was just as striking as his impressive height. Born into an era when Black men were routinely addressed as “Boy," Vernon’s mother pointedly nicknamed him “Man.” He honored her faith in him with his bravery, his grace, his brilliance and his excellence."


Jordan also served as the executive director of the United Negro College Fund from 1980 to 1981.


Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF's president, shared his condolences via Twitter and recalled Jordan's commitment to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


"My last meeting with the Great Vernon Jordan in his DC office to get advice and counsel on a difficult issue facing UNCF. He was always there for @UNCF, for #HBCUs & Black college students. He loved to reminisce abt Benjamin Mays, Albert Dent & great HBCU presidents he knew," tweeted Lomax.


Jordan's high profile successes eventually led to him becoming the target and victim of racist violence. In 1980, Jordan was shot with a hunting rifle while exiting a hotel in Fort Wayne, Indiana. During his three month recovery, Jordan was visited by President Jimmy Carter. The bedside hospital visit was widely covered by the media and became the first story run by CNN, which had only recently launched.


Jordan's later career was characterized by service on corporate boards and advisory roles for financial institutions. He has served on the boards of American Express, J.C. Penney Corporation, Asbury Automotive Group, and the Dow Jones & Company. Jordan was also a senior managing director at Lazard Frères & Co., a multi-billion dollar, international asset management firm.


The passage of years never dulled Vernon Jordan's keen dedication to justice and equality. He always championed the importance of fighting on behalf those who face racism.


“My view on all this business about race is never to get angry, no, but to get even,” said Jordan during a 2000 interview with the New York Times. “You don’t take it out in anger; you take it out in achievement.”

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