Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some sad news to report. This involves Civil Rights Lawyer Vernon Jordan.
Vernon Jordan died March 1st at his home in Washington. He was 85. The death was confirmed by his daughter, Vickee Jordan. She declined to state the cause.
Jordan was a lawyer who rarely appeared in court, a corporate kingmaker who was not a registered lobbyist, a political strategist who did not direct a campaign. Jordan was one of the most influential figures in Washington. With a commanding presence, personal charm and an inviolable sense of discretion, he had a rare combination of talents that made him the confidant of presidents, congressional leaders, business executives and civil rights figures.
Jordan was the consummate Washington power broker, reaching the peak of his quiet authority during the 1990s, when he was, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton’s closest adviser. He had Clinton’s ear through two terms as president, including the most challenging moments, when Clinton faced an investigation and impeachment for a relationship with a White House intern.
Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr. was born August 15, 1935, in Atlanta. His father was a postal worker on a military base. Jordan attended segregated schools, but he also was exposed to Atlanta’s elite White society while working for his mother’s successful catering business. At her urging, he left the South for college, attending DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. He organized voter registration drives for Black residents of the region and became prominent in campus government and oratory.
After graduating in 1957 from DePauw, where he was the only Black member of his class, Jordan entered law school at Howard University in Washington. He graduated in 1960, then joined an Atlanta firm led by a prominent African American lawyer, Donald Hollowell. The firm sued the University of Georgia on behalf of Charlayne Hunter, who became one of the college’s first two Black undergraduates in 1961. Jordan escorted her to class through jeering crowds. Soon afterward, Jordan became Georgia’s field secretary for the NAACP and led boycotts of stores that refused to hire Black workers. He moved to Arkansas in 1964 and coordinated voter registration efforts that added 2 million Black voters to rolls across the South.
Jordan was a fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 1969, and the next year, he became executive director of the United Negro College Fund. When Whitney M. Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, drowned on a visit to Nigeria in 1971, Mr. Jordan was chosen as his successor. He oversaw a budget of $100 million and traveled extensively to raise money from corporate leaders to support job training, early childhood education and other programs aimed at improving Black life in the United States. He joined the boards of blue-chip companies including American Express, Xerox, Dow Jones & Co., Union Carbide and RJR Nabisco, and used his access to executives to encourage major companies to hire women and members of minority groups.
During his 98 day hospitalization, Mr. Jordan reassessed his life. With the Urban League facing a chilly political climate with the incoming Reagan administration in 1981, Mr. Jordan moved to Washington as a senior partner with Akin Gump.
He was sometimes described as a “superlawyer,” but his role at the law firm and lobbying shop resisted easy definition. He was not a registered lobbyist and did not argue cases in court.“If you ever see me in the library here, tap me on the shoulder,” he reportedly told a colleague. “For you will know that I am lost.”As the Clinton presidency was coming to an end in 2000, Mr. Jordan took a senior position at the New York investment banking firm of Lazard Frères, for a reported salary of $5 million a year.He retained his position at Akin Gump “I’m there every Friday,” he said and continued to be a presence in Washington.
Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Vickee Jordan of Washington; three stepchildren, Toni Cook Bush of Washington, Janice Cook Roberts and Mercer Cook, both of New York; and two grandsons.