September 27, 2023

IN MEMORIAM: Vernon Jordan dead at 85

Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr., a renowned civil rights activist and former adviser to President Bill Clinton died Monday at the age of 85.

Jordan was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 15, 1935 and grew up with his family in the segregated societal cosmos of Atlanta during the 1950s. He was an honors graduate of David T. Howard High School. Rejected for a summer internship with an insurance company after his sophomore year in college because of his race, he earned money for college for a few summers by working as a chauffeur to former city mayor Robert Maddox, then a banker. Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1957. Jordan spoke of his difficulties at DePauw as the only black student in a class of 400. He earned a Juris Doctor at Howard University School of Law in 1960. He was a member of the Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.

In 1970, Jordan became executive director of the United Negro College Fund. He was president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981.

On May 29, 1980, Jordan was shot and seriously wounded by Joseph Paul Franklin outside the Marriott Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana in an assassination attempt.

He later went on to serve as part of Clinton’s transition team in 1992–93.

In 1998, Jordan helped Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, find a job after she left the White House, and recommended an attorney. His role was considered controversial given the scandal that the Clinton administration had suffered because of the president’s involvement with the intern.

In the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, Jordan was one of three individuals (alongside Lewisnky and Sidney Blumenthal) who House impeachment managers filmed a sworn deposition of.

After Clinton’s departure, Jordan began working with multiple corporations and investment banking firms up until his death. During the 2004 election, he worked for John Kerry’s campaign.

His memoir, Vernon Can Read! (2001), covered his life through the 1980s, and was written with historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed.

He also served as the narrator for American composer Joseph Schwantner’s New Morning for the World: “Daybreak of Freedom,” a collection of quotations from various speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.

His first wife, Shirley, died in 1985 and the two share a daughter.  In 1986, he married Ann Dibble Jordan, with whom he shares three children. Jordan also has nine grandchildren.

Jordan died quietly at his home in Washington, D.C. surrounded by his loved ones.

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