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Jordan, Vernon E. Jr. 1935–

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. 1935

Civil rights leader, lawyer

A Catalyst of Change

Joined the Upper Echelon

The Target of an Assassin

A New Direction

Became involved in Presidential Scandal

Sources

For more than two decades, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., was one of the most visible and influential spokespersons for the plight of black Americans. Jordan served a ten-year tenure as the executive director of the National Urban League, an organization dedicated to improving social conditions for blacks living in cities. His selection for that prestigious position while still in his mid-thirties was no fluke: Jordan had earned a reputation for dignified oratory, a level head, and a strong agenda as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Regional Council. The Reverend Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) once described Jordan to a Time correspondent as possessing one of the ablest and most articulate voices in the civil and human rights movement.

Vernon Eulion Jordan, Jr.the second of Vernon and Mary Belle Jordans three sonswas born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1935 and lived in one of the first public housing projects built specifically for blacks. That project, wrote People reporter Jed Home, was as segregated as schools, streetcars and luncheon counters. Indeed, Jordan and his brothers grew up with middle-class comfortshis father was a postal worker and his mother ran a catering businessbut they still felt the ramifications of the separate but equal statutes in the Deep South. You knew there was colored water and there was white water, and you knew you sat upstairs in the theater, Jordan acknowledged in People. It was a way of life, and you understood that. It never meant you accepted it.

A Catalyst of Change

Young Vernon Jordan earned excellent grades in his all-black public schools, in addition to playing basketball. After graduating from high school, he attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Though the only black in his class and one of five in the school, Jordan engaged in many campus activities, playing basketball, appearing in playsone of which he wrote himself about racism in the Southand serving as vice-president of the schools Democratic club. He majored in political science, minored in history and speech, and earned several first prizes for oratory, including one at the Indiana Interstate Oratorical Contest.

Jordan graduated from DePauw University in 1957 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he studied law at Howard University. While there he married Shirley M. Yarbrough. Asked by an Ebony correspondent how he paid for his higher education, Jordan replied: I worked to help pay my way to college. I was a bus driver with the CTA [Chicago Transit Authority] for two summers, 1957 and 1958, making $2.45 an hour and sometimes working 16 hours a day. Upon graduating from Howard in 1960, Jordan received offers of employment from several corporate law firms in the nations capital, but he decided instead to move back to Atlanta in order to join the civil rights movement.

While his wife began a career in social work, Jordan served as a clerk in the office of legendary civil rights attorney Donald Hollowell. It excited me to be back in

At a Glance

Born Vernon Eulion Jordan, Jr., August 15, 1935, in Atlanta, GA; son of Vernon (a postal supervisor) and Mary Belle (a caterer; maiden name, Griggs) Jordan; married Shirley M. Yarbrough, 1959 (deceased); children: Vickee. Education: DePauw University, B.A., 1957; received law degree from Howard University, 1960.

Career: Law clerk for attorney Donald Hollowell, 1960-64; Georgia field secretary for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1962-64; private practice lawyer and director of Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council, 1964-70; United Negro College Fund (UNCF), New York City, executive director, 1970-71; National Urban League, New York City, executive director, 1971-81; Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld (law firm), Dallas, TX, and Washington, DC, partner, 1981-00; Lazard Frères & Company, sr managing partner, 2000-; member of ten corporate boards; author, Vernon Can Read!: Λ Memoir, 2001.

Awards: Fellowships to Harvard Universitys Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Metropolitan Applied Research Center; received Old Gold Goblet from DePauw University, 1969; received honorary degrees from Brandeis University, Bloomfield College, Morris Brown College, and Wilberforce University.

Address: Office Lazard Frères & Company, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020.

the South, at the cutting edge of that kind of activity, Jordan recalled in People. Within a year he was in the thick of things. A black student, Charlayne Hunter, successfully sued the University of Georgia to gain admittance. On the first day of class, an angry crowd gathered to deny her entrance to the campus. The six-foot-four-inch Jordan used his body as a shield to escort Hunter to her first class. It was the first time his picture made the newspapers.

In 1962 Jordan was named Georgia field secretary for the NAACP. In that high-profile job he made speeches, organized new NAACP branches, coordinated demonstrations, and called for economic boycotts of industries that would not employ blacks. So successful were the boycotts that a number of stores in Atlanta began to hire blacks that same year.

Jordan realized that the key to black power in the South lay in the vote. In 1964 he moved to Arkansas and opened a private law firm. At the same time he became director of the Voter Education Project run by the Southern Regional Council. This new position took him all over the South, where he coordinated voter registration drives and counselled the black electorate. A Time correspondent noted: By 1968 the South had nearly 2 million new black voters, the number of black elected officials in the region had jumped almost eightfold, to 564, and Vernon Jordan was a nationally known civil rights leader. Simultaneously, Jordan became known among the black civil rights leadership as a level-headed mediator who was able to arbitrate when disagreements arose within the ranks.

Joined the Upper Echelon

The charismatic young leader had just announced plans to run for Congress in Atlanta in 1970 when he was asked to become executive director of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)an organization that, through fund-raising, helped to finance a consortium of black colleges nationwide. In Jordan, the UNCF found a capable administrator. In his twelve months on the job, the organization raised $8 million, which it dispersed to 36 member colleges. Jordan was firmly committed to the idea of a black intellectual elitea portion of the population that he believed would set an example and even push to change the plight of those who had less education. Youve got to have an intellectual working Black elite and you cant get that standing on the corner, he asserted in Ebony. But you go even beyond that and realize that the way people survive in this society is through worka decent job with a decent wage if that is available.

In 1971 Whitney Young, Jr., the executive director of the National Urban League, drowned while visiting Nigeria. Jordan was the unanimous choice of the Urban League board to succeed Young in a position that was arguably the most important one in the nation for the cause of black empowerment. By the early 1970s the civil rights battle had moved from the South to the ghettos of the countrys cities. The Urban League sought help from the government and from corporate sponsorship to fund job training programs, early childhood education, and other causes dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty. Jordan was the first lawyer to head the organization traditionally run by social workers, and he brought his considerable fund-raising skills with him when he took office.

Jordan saw the Urban League as a bridge between white executives and the urban poor. He sought sponsorship from corporations and wound up sitting on several corporate boards. Under his leadership, the league opened 17 new affiliates, for a total of 117. During his decade as the Urban Leagues leader, Jordan oversaw an annual budget of over $100 million, much of it supplied by the federal government. With his salary from the league and his stipends from corporate boards, he earned six figures a year.

A taste for fine cigars and Brooks Brothers suits, however, earned Jordan the disdain of some members of the civil rights struggle. Writer Amiri Baraka expressed his scorn in People by calling the Urban League a vehicle for allowing the interests and thinking of white racist monopoly capital to penetrate the black movement. Not surprisingly, Jordan held different views of his work as a public servant. If I do a good job here, he argued in Ebony, the Black people are not the only beneficiary; so is the country. The country has a vested interest in Black people doing well. It is really true that the chain is as strong as its weakest link. Those of us in leadership of the Black community have an enormous burden of clarifying and defining the issues.

The Target of an Assassin

As a member of the black leadership, Jordan traveled across the country to promote social concern about urban poverty. One such trip in 1980 found him in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a speech before the local chapter of the Urban League. After a long evening of dining with and speaking to the Fort Wayne chapter, Jordan spent an hour drinking coffee in the home of league member Martha Coleman. When Coleman returned Jordan to his hotel, he was shot from a distance by a sniper armed with a powerful.30-06 hunting riflethe kind used to kill bear and deer. One gunshot ripped a fist-sized hole in Jordans back, narrowly missing his spinal column. He was rushed to a Fort Wayne hospital, where he spent almost five hours in surgery.

Jordan survived the shooting but spent three months in the hospital and underwent five surgical procedures. Visitors to his hospital room included then-President Jimmy Carter and various black political leaders, including Jesse Jackson. Jordan put the harrowing brush with death in perspective in Ebony: It is significant to note that, since over the years many Blacks died on a highway because no hospital would take them because they were Black, here in 19801 would get shot in a little town like Fort Wayne and be rushed to a hospital where the internist in the operating room was Black, the anesthesiologist was Black and the surgeon was Black. Now what that suggests is that there has been some progress. Jordan vowed to continue as director of the Urban League as soon as he recovered. A thorough investigation was conducted by the FBI. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed white racist, looking to shoot interracial couples, was charged with the shooting, but denied any involvement. However, 14 years later, while awaiting trial on other charges, he confessed to the shooting.

A New Direction

When Jordan announced in 1981 that he was retiring from the Urban Leagues leadership, he was adamant that the shooting had nothing to do with his decision. He said he simply felt that a ten-year term in the office was the limit for any one person. Jordan left the Urban League on the eve of severe budget cuts to social service programs by the administration of President Ronald Reagan. As the 1980s progressed, the league lost almost 80 percent of its federal funding. New Republic contributor Herbert Denton outlined the battle Jordan had fought during the last years of his directorship: The years have been grueling and frustrating for him and for the other bright-eyed, ambitious young men in the old photographs [from the civil rights movement of the 1960s]. This later generation of civil rights leaders invoked the familiar rhetoric and tried to keep the old goals alive. But the economy declined, the climate sharply turned conservative, and many whites, including large numbers of former liberals and allies, began to suggest elliptically that race was no longer an obstacle and that perhaps the rest was up to blacks themselves. Denton concluded: Just below the surface, the attitude has become: pull your socks up. Quit whining. Dont have so many babies.

For his part, Jordan declared that he was leaving the Urban League, not the principles behind it. Im not leaving the movement, he said in Time. Im leaving the leadership. I wont run away from civil rights cases as a lawyer, but I wont be at the cutting edge. Jordan joined the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. He has worked for the Dallas, Texas-based firm for more than a decade as a full partner. In 1991 Robert Strauss, the firms highest-profile attorney, was named ambassador to Russia. A Wall Street Journal reporter claimed that Strausss departure will mean a larger role for Jordan, who, like Mr. Strauss, is a congenial and sought-after speaker at political and corporate gatherings.

During the Civil Rights movement, Vernon Jordan was a moderate seeking equality by working within the white power structure. In the ensuing decades Jordan became a force in his own right within that same structure. By the early 1990s Jordan was serving on the boards of dozens of major corporations. His position as a senior partner as the Washington D.C. law and lobbying firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld gave him ample opportunity to take advantage of his business contacts. Because Vernon is on so many corporate boards, he understands the business community and the corporate mentality. He also understands things here in Washington, so he can help executives understand how Washington worksand vice-versa, a friend of Jordans told Washington Monthly. However, what really made Jordan the ultimate Washington insider was his close friendship with Bill Clinton.

The two men had met in 1980 while Jordan was in Arkansas on business for the Urban League. They soon became friends. Both were from poor families in the south and both were ambitious enough to climb the ladders to the top of their professions. According to Washington Monthly, both mens careers have been driven by conflicting forces: their conventional ambitions (Clinton for political success, Jordan for financial) and their social idealism. In 1991 Jordan and Clinton attended an elite conference of international business leaders and politicians in Germany. When Clinton decided to run for president, Jordan served as a campaign advisor. Following Clintons 1992 victory, Jordan was appointed co-chair of Clintons transition team. This appointment upset anti-smoking activists because Jordan was on the board of tobacco giant RJR/Nabisco and in his role on the transition team he would wield great influence in deciding who appointees for posts agencies with a stake in smoking-related issues. To those who questioned his potential conflicts of interest, Jordan responded with indignation. The Economist quoted two oft-repeated statements that Jordan made dismissing these sorts of questions: I, and only I, am the keeper of my conscience, and I am the custodian of my morality and ethics.

Jordans stance that his own ethics were above scrutiny upset the media and the public, particularly considering his close relationship with the president. However, because he served in no official capacity he could not be pressured to disclose anything about his own motives. Jordan went to pains to remain unaccountable, even turning down lucrative offers to serve in Clintons administration. The Clinton team had offered Jordan a number of high level positionsone rumor has it that he was being considered as the first black Attorney Generalhowever, Jordan turned them down in favor of his more profitable role as an unofficial insider. He is a politician with no government post, a lobbyist who goes unregistered, a lawyer who disdains legal work. He belongs to all these categories and none of them, wrote The Economist. It is this very unaccountability that made him so sought after by politicians and business leaders. He could do what they couldnt without worrying about his professional and personal lives being scrutinized. He sounded out Colin Powell for Clinton to see if he had any interest in becoming Secretary of State. He scouted out jobs for powerful figures such as the CEO of IBM and the president of the World Bank. He also courted controversy when he advised Clinton on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The agreements passage benefited two companies on whose boards Jordan sat, J.C. Penney and Bankers Trust. Again Jordans unofficial stance saved him from official scrutiny. Jordan is not compelled to tell anyone anything, Washington Monthly noted.

Became involved in Presidential Scandal

However, in 1998 Jordan was compelled to tell someone something when he was accused of aiding in a cover-up of the affair between Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky. At the request of Clinton, Jordan had used his contacts to secure Lewinsky a lucrative job offer from Revlon and retain her a lawyer. Prosecutors claimed that these actions were bribes to keep Lewinsky quiet. Jordan was also accused of outright advising Lewinsky to lie about the affair. Jordan endured many grueling hours of questioning from the prosecutors. In addition, his relationship with the president was covered in numerous national and international papers and recounted on many television news shows. Throughout the ordeal, Jordan maintained his composure and in the end the allegations against him were not addressed in the report that lead prosecutor Kenneth Starr delivered to Congress.

That same year, Jordanalready used to having his face plastered on television sets during the evening newsfound his way on the big screen when he landed a bit role as a lawyer in the film The Gingerbread Man. It was a hoot, Jordan told People Weekly of the filmmaking. I didnt have sense enough to be nervous. The following year he appeared as a judge in the film Rounders.

In 2000 Jordan left Washington and joined the New York investment firm of Lazard Frères & Co. as a senior managing partner. According to Black Enterprise Jordans role in the firm was to use his contacts with corporate execs to help rebuild the firms reputation as a leading advisor on mergers and acquisitions. The following year Jordan released an autobiography, Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir. The title comes from an incident that occurred during the 1950s while Jordan was on break from college. He worked as a chauffeur for the racist bank president who was stunned when he learned that Vernon can read. True to his private nature, the book does not reveal any secrets about Clinton or any of the other powerful figures Jordan has known. Rather it tells the story of his rise from Atlanta projects to Washington power and shares the lessons he has learned along the way. He is still learning his lessons. When asked why he would take on a new job with Lazard at the age of 64 he told Black Enterprise, Life is about new occasions and new duties and this is another hill to climb.

Whatever direction Jordans career takes, his contributions to the cause of civil rights are beyond doubt. As Denton put it in the New Republic, the tall, suave, well-educated Jordan became the movements ambassador to the establishment, a man of the boardrooms and the rarefied world of power and money.

Sources

Books

Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale, 1999.

The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the African American, fifth edition, Gale, 1989.

Whos Who Among African Americans, 15th Edition, Gale, 2002.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, March 2000, p. 27.

Ebony, December 1980.

The Economist, January 31, 1998, p. 34.

Insight on the News, February 16, 1998, p. 40.

Jet, April 22, 1996, p. 63.

Library Journal, December 2001, p. 138.

New Republic, September 30, 1981.

Newsweek, June 9, 1980; October 13, 1980; March 2, 1998, p. 44; October 29, 2001, p. 69.

New York Times, June 16, 1971; June 17, 1971.

People, July 28, 1980; April 27, 1981; February 23, 1998, p45.

Time, June 28, 1971; June 9, 1980; September 21, 1981.

Wall Street Journal, July 24, 1991.

Washington Monthly, June 1997, p. 20.

Washington Post, July 29, 1971; May 26, 1989; June 3, 1991.

Mark Kram and Candace LaBalle

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Jordan, Vernon E. Jr. 1935–

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. 1935

Civil rights leader, lawyer

At a Glance

Joined the Upper Echelon

The Target of an Assassin

A New Direction

Sources

For more than two decades, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., was one of the most visible and influential spokespersons for the plight of black Americans. Jordan served a ten-year tenure as the executive director of the National Urban League, an organization dedicated to improving social conditions for blacks living in cities. His selection for that prestigious position while still in his mid-thirties was no fluke: Jordan had earned a reputation for dignified oratory, a level head, and a strong agenda as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Regional Council. The Reverend Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) once described Jordan to a Time correspondent as possessing one of the ablest and most articulate voices in the civil and human rights movement.

Vernon Eulion Jordan, Jr.the second of Vernon and Mary Belle Jordans three sonswas born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1935 and lived in one of the first public housing projects built specifically for blacks. That project, wrote People reporter Jed Home, was as segregated as schools, streetcars and luncheon counters. Indeed, Jordan and his brothers grew up with middle-class comfortshis father was a postal worker and his mother ran a catering businessbut they still felt the ramifications of the separate but equal statutes in the Deep South. You knew there was colored water and there was white water, and you knew you sat upstairs in the theater, Jordan acknowledged in People. It was a way of life, and you understood that. It never meant you accepted it.

Young Vernon Jordan earned excellent grades in his all-black public schools, in addition to playing basketball. After graduating from high school, he attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Though the only black in his class and one of five in the school, Jordan engaged in many campus activities, playing basketball, appearing in playsone of which he wrote himself about racism in the Southand serving as vice-president of the schools Democratic club. He majored in political science, minored in history and speech, and earned several first prizes for oratory, including one at the Indiana Interstate Oratorical Contest.

Jordan graduated from DePauw University in 1957 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he studied law at Howard University. While there he married Shirley M. Yarbrough. Asked by an Ebony correspondent how he

At a Glance

Born Vernon Eulion Jordan, Jr., August 15, 1935, in Atlanta, GA; son of Vernon (a postal supervisor) and Mary Belle (a caterer; maiden name, Griggs) Jordan; married Shirley M. Yarbrough, 1959 (deceased); children: Vickee. Education: DePauw University, B.A., 1957; received law degree from Howard University, 1960.

Law clerk for attorney Donald Hollowell, 1960-64; Georgia field secretary for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1962-64; private practice lawyer and director of Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council, 1964-70; United Negro College Fund (UNCF), New York City, executive director, 1970-71; National Urban League, New York City, executive director, 1971-81; Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld (law firm), Dallas, TX, and Washington, DC, partner, 1981. Member of ten corporate boards.

Selected awards: Fellowships to Harvard Universitys Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Metropolitan Applied Research Center; received Old Gold Goblet from DePauw University, 1969; received honorary degrees from Brandeis University, Bloomfield College, Morris Brown College, and Wilberforce University.

Addresses: Office Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, 1333 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Ste. 400, Washington, DC 20036.

paid for his higher education, Jordan replied: I worked to help pay my way to college. I was a bus driver with the CTA [Chicago Transit Authority] for two summers, 1957 and 1958, making $2.45 an hour and sometimes working 16 hours a day. Upon graduating from Howard in 1960, Jordan received offers of employment from several corporate law firms in the nations capital, but he decided instead to move back to Atlanta in order to join the civil rights movement.

While his wife began a career in social work, Jordan served as a clerk in the office of legendary civil rights attorney Donald Hollowell. It excited me to be back in the South, at the cutting edge of that kind of activity, Jordan recalled in People. Within a year he was in the thick of things. A black student, Charlayne Hunter, successfully sued the University of Georgia to gain admittance. On the first day of class, an angry crowd gathered to deny her entrance to the campus. The six-foot-four-inch Jordan used his body as a shield to escort Hunter to her first class. It was the first time his picture made the newspapers.

In 1962 Jordan was named Georgia field secretary for the NAACP. In that high-profile job he made speeches, organized new NAACP branches, coordinated demonstrations, and called for economic boycotts of industries that would not employ blacks. So successful were the boycotts that a number of stores in Atlanta began to hire blacks that same year.

Jordan realized that the key to black power in the South lay in the vote. In 1964 he moved to Arkansas and opened a private law firm. At the same time he became director of the Voter Education Project run by the Southern Regional Council. This new position took him all over the South, where he coordinated voter registration drives and counselled the black electorate. A Time correspondent noted: By 1968 the South had nearly 2 million new black voters, the number of black elected officials in the region had jumped almost eightfold, to 564, and Vernon Jordan was a nationally known civil rights leader. Simultaneously, Jordan became known among the black civil rights leadership as a level-headed mediator who was able to arbitrate when disagreements arose within the ranks.

Joined the Upper Echelon

The charismatic young leader had just announced plans to run for Congress in Atlanta in 1970 when he was asked to become executive director of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)an organization that, through fund-raising, helped to finance a consortium of black colleges nationwide. In Jordan, the UNCF found a capable administrator. In his twelve months on the job, the organization raised $8 million, which it dispersed to 36 member colleges. Jordan was firmly committed to the idea of a black intellectual elitea portion of the population that he believed would set an example and even push to change the plight of those who had less education. Youve got to have an intellectual working Black elite and you cant get that standing on the corner, he asserted in Ebony. But you go even beyond that and realize that the way people survive in this society is through worka decent job with a decent wage if that is available.

In 1971 Whitney Young, Jr., the executive director of the National Urban League, drowned while visiting Nigeria. Jordan was the unanimous choice of the Urban League board to succeed Young in a position that was arguably the most important one in the nation for the cause of black empowerment. By the early 1970s the civil rights battle had moved from the South to the ghettos of the countrys cities. The Urban League sought help from the government and from corporate sponsorship to fund job training programs, early childhood education, and other causes dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty. Jordan was the first lawyer to head the organization traditionally run by social workers, and he brought his considerable fundraising skills with him when he took office.

Jordan saw the Urban League as a bridge between white executives and the urban poor. He sought sponsorship from corporations and wound up sitting on several corporate boards. Under his leadership, the league opened 17 new affiliates, for a total of 117. During his decade as the Urban Leagues leader, Jordan oversaw an annual budget of over $100 million, much of it supplied by the federal government. With his salary from the league and his stipends from corporate boards, he earned six figures a year.

A taste for fine cigars and Brooks Brothers suits, however, earned Jordan the disdain of some members of the civil rights struggle. Playwright Amiri Baraka expressed his scorn in People by calling the Urban League a vehicle for allowing the interests and thinking of white racist monopoly capital to penetrate the black movement. Not surprisingly, Jordan held different views of his work as a public servant. If I do a good job here, he argued in Ebony, the Black people are not the only beneficiary; so is the country. The country has a vested interest in Black people doing well. It is really true that the chain is as strong as its weakest link. Those of us in leadership of the Black community have an enormous burden of clarifying and defining the issues.

The Target of an Assassin

As a member of the black leadership, Jordan traveled across the country to promote social concern about urban poverty. One such trip in 1980 found him in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a speech before the local chapter of the Urban League. After a long evening of dining with and speaking to the Fort Wayne chapter, Jordan spent an hour drinking coffee in the home of league member Martha Coleman. When Coleman returned Jordan to his hotel, he was shot from a distance by a sniper armed with a powerful .30-06 hunting riflethe kind used to kill bear and deer. One gunshot ripped a fist-sized hole in Jordans back, narrowly missing his spinal column. He was rushed to a Fort Wayne hospital, where he spent almost five hours in surgery.

Jordan survived the shooting but spent three months in the hospital and underwent five surgical procedures. Visitors to his hospital room included then-President Jimmy Carter and various black political leaders, including Jesse Jackson. Jordan put the harrowing brush with death in perspective in Ebony : It is significant to note that, since over the years many Blacks died on a highway because no hospital would take them because they were Black, here in 1980 I would get shot in a little town like Fort Wayne and be rushed to a hospital where the internist in the operating room was Black, the anesthesiologist was Black and the surgeon was Black. Now what that suggests is that there has been some progress. Jordan vowed to continue as director of the Urban League as soon as he recovered. Despite a thorough investigation by the FBI, no one was ever brought to trial in the assassination attempt.

A New Direction

When Jordan announced in 1981 that he was retiring from the Urban Leagues leadership, he was adamant that the shooting had nothing to do with his decision. He said he simply felt that a ten-year term in the office was the limit for any one person. Jordan left the Urban League on the eve of severe budget cuts to social service programs by the administration of President Ronald Reagan. As the 1980s progressed, the league lost almost 80 percent of its federal funding. New Republic contributor Herbert Denton outlined the battle Jordan had fought during the last years of his directorship: The years have been grueling and frustrating for him and for the other bright-eyed, ambitious young men in the old photographs [from the civil rights movement of the 1960s]. This later generation of civil rights leaders invoked the familiar rhetoric and tried to keep the old goals alive. But the economy declined, the climate sharply turned conservative, and many whites, including large numbers of former liberals and allies, began to suggest elliptically that race was no longer an obstacle and that perhaps the rest was up to blacks themselves. Denton concluded: Just below the surface, the attitude has become: pull your socks up. Quit whining. Dont have so many babies.

For his part, Jordan declared that he was leaving the Urban League, not the principles behind it. Im not leaving the movement, he said in Time. Im leaving the leadership. I wont run away from civil rights cases as a lawyer, but I wont be at the cutting edge. Jordan joined the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. He has worked for the Dallas, Texas-based firm for more than a decade as a full partner. In 1991 Robert Strauss, the firms highest-profile attorney, was named ambassador to Russia. A Wall Street Journal reporter claimed that Strausss departure will mean a larger role for Jordan, who, like Mr. Strauss, is a congenial and sought-after speaker at political and corporate gatherings.

Whatever direction Jordans career takes, his contributions to the cause of civil rights are beyond doubt. As Denton put it in the New Republic, the tall, suave, well-educated Jordan became the movements ambassador to the establishment, a man of the boardrooms and the rarefied world of power and money.

Sources

Books

The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the African American, fifth edition, Gale, 1989.

Periodicals

Ebony, December 1980.

New Republic, September 30, 1981.

Newsweek, June 9, 1980; October 13, 1980.

New York Times, June 16, 1971; June 17, 1971.

People, July 28, 1980; April 27, 1981.

Time, June 28, 1971; June 9, 1980; September 21, 1981.

Wall Street Journal, July 24, 1991.

Washington Post, July 29, 1971; May 26, 1989; June 3, 1991.

Mark Kram

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"Jordan, Vernon E. Jr. 1935–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Jordan, Vernon E. Jr. 1935–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jordan-vernon-e-jr-1935

Jordan, Vernon Eulion, Jr.

Vernon Eulion Jordan, Jr., 1935–, African-American civil-rights leader and lawyer, b. Atlanta, Ga. A graduate of the Howard Univ. Law School, he was executive director (1970–71) of the United Negro College Fund and president (1972–81) of the National Urban League. After being wounded (1980) by a sniper in Fort Wayne, Ind., he retired to law practice in Washington, D.C. In 1992–93 he was head of the transition team for incoming president Bill Clinton, for whom he became an influential adviser. In 2006 he served as a member of the Iraq Study Group.

See his memoir, Vernon Can Read! (2001).

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"Jordan, Vernon Eulion, Jr.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jordan-vernon-eulion-jr