Vernon Jordan

Civil Rights Icon and Former Clinton Advisor Is Dead at 85

WASHINGTON–Vernon Jordan, a civil rights icon who was also an advisOR to former President Bill Clinton, died on Monday, according to his family.

He was 85.

His daughter, Vickee Jordan, said on Tuesday he “passed away peacefully last evening surrounded by loved ones.”

“We appreciate all of the outpouring of love and affection,” she said in a statement.

Born Aug. 15, 1935, in Atlanta, Mr. Jordan grew up in the segregated South and became an influential leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, Washington politics and Wall Street.

A graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and the Howard University School of Law in Washington, he went on to become the president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981.

According to the organization, he was the first to produce a State of Black America report in 1976 “after both President Gerald Ford’s State of the Union Address and U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie’s response completely ignored the crisis then facing Black Americans.”

Under his leadership, the organization added 17 chapters and its budget grew to more than $100 million. 

It also broadened its focus to include voter registration drives and conflict resolution between Blacks  and law enforcement.

The high-profile position landed him in the crosshairs of a racist in May 1980 ,in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Mr. Jordan was shot with a hunter’s rifle outside his hotel after returning from dinner following a speaking engagement.

Mr. Jordan had five surgeries and was visited by President Jimmy Carter during his three-month hospitsal recovery.

Joseph Paul Franklin, the avowed white supremacist who targeted Blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, later admitted to shooting Mr. Jordan.  He was never prosecuted in Mr. Jordan’s case, but was put to death in 2013 for another slaying in Missouri.

National Urban League president Marc Morial remembered him as one of the “top transformative leaders” in civil rights, politics and business.

“The nation has lost one of its greatest champions of racial and economic justice,” Mr. Morial   said in a statement. 

“He was a transformational leader, who, brought the movement into a new era. 

“He was a personal mentor and dear friend. 

“His passing leaves a tremendous void that can never be filled.”

Mr. Morial went on to say that the organization would not be where it is today without Vernon Jordan. 

Mr. Jordan was also the executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1980 and 1981. 

In a statement,  the organization’s president, Michael Lomax, called Mr. Jordan’s  death a “heartbreaking loss” and reflected on the last time the two saw each other.

“My last meeting with the great Vernon Jordan in his Wasjomgtpm   office to get advice and counsel on a difficult issue facing UNCF,” hpointing to a a photo of them together.

“He was always there for UNCF, for HBCU’s and Black college students,” Mr. Morial continued.  “He loved to reminisce about Benjamin Mays, Albert Dent and great HBCU presidents he knew.”

(HBCU is an acronym for historically Black colleges and universities.)

The civil rights leader was also influential in politics, becoming a key adviser to Clinton during his first presidential campaign and the co-chair of Clinton’s transition team.  He was the first Black person to be assigned such a role.

Mr. Jordan’s friendship with Mr. Clinton, which began in the 1970’s, evolved into a partnership and political alliance

He met Mr. Clinton as a young politician in Arkansas, and the two connected over their Southern roots and poor upbringings.

Although Mr. Jordan held no official role in the Clinton White House, he was highly influential and had such labels as the “first friend.” 

He approached Col Powell about becoming secretary of state and encouraged President Clinton to pass the North American Freed Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1993.

  Mr. Jordan also secured a job at Revlon for Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern whose affair with the president spawned a scandal.

Mr. Jordan’s actions briefly drew the attention of federal prosecutors investigating President Clinton’s actions, but he, ultimately, was not mentioned in a final report issued by special prosecutor Ken Starr.

In 2000, Mr. Jordan joined the New York investment firm of Lazard Freres & Co. as a senior managing partner.

The following year, he released an autobiography, “Vernon Can Read!:  a Memoir.” 

Also, in 2001, Mr. Jordan was awarded the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor given by the NAACP to a Black American for outstanding achievement.

He has received more than 55 honorary degrees, including ones from both of his alma maters, and sat on several boards of directors.

Jordan’s first wife, Shirley Yarbrough, died in  1985. 

He is survived by his daughter and his second wife, Ann Jordan.

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