Vernon Jordan, a civil rights icon and former adviser to President Bill Clinton died on Monday, March 1 at 85 years old.
Born in Atlanta and raised in the Jim Crow South, Jordan was best known for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, Washington D.C. and Wall Street. Jordan attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana and the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. He became the president of the civil rights and advocacy organization the National Urban League in 1971, serving until 1981.
Under Jordan, the organization grew to have 17 additional chapters, a more than $100 million budget and a broadened focus that included voter registration and police brutality. In 1980, a sniper attempted to assassinate Jordan outside of a hotel in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Although Jordan recovered, the process was arduous and required long rehabilitation sessions and five different surgeries. Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist murderer later admitted to pulling the trigger but was never prosecuted in Jordan’s case. He was executed in 2013 for a murder he committed in Missouri.
Following his work with the National Urban League, Jordan continued serving as an advocate for diversity and inclusion. In 1993, he went on to become a key adviser to Clinton and a co-chair of his transition team, becoming the first Black person to hold such a position. While he didn’t hold an official role in the Clinton White House, Jordan was still incredibly influential. He reportedly encouraged Clinton to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement during his first year in office.
In the wake of the scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Jordan secured a job at Revlon for her. Though federal prosecutors at first looked into whether Jordan conspired in the cover-up of Clinton’s affair, he was ultimately not mentioned in the final report.
In 2000, Jordan joined the New York investment firm, Lazard Freres & Co. as a senior managing partner. In 2001, he released his autobiography, Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir. That same year, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor awarded by the NAACP to a Black American.
Jordan also continued working to support up-and-coming generations. He served as a mentor to numerous young Black leaders throughout his career, including Ursula Burns, the former chief executive of Xerox and the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Leaders and activists mourned Jordan’s passing this week. National Urban League President Marc Morial stated the organization would not be where it is today without Jordan.
“The nation has lost one of its greatest champions of racial and economic justice,” he 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.”
United Negro College Fund executive director Michael Lomax tweeted about Jordan, calling his death a “heartbreaking loss” and then sharing a photo of them together.
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. pic.twitter.com/obUlJ1mxFq
— Dr. Michael Lomax (@DrMichaelLomax) March 2, 2021
Clinton also memorialized Jordan on Twitter, saying he was a “wonderful friend” to his family.
Vernon Jordan was a wonderful friend to Hillary, Chelsea, and me, in good times and bad. We worked and played, laughed and cried, won and lost together. We loved him very much and always will. pic.twitter.com/mZAsx1xETn
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) March 2, 2021
Jordan is survived by his daughter Vickee, his second wife, Ann Dibble Cook, his three stepchildren and his two grandsons.