Activist was ‘first friend’ to Clinton
ATLANTA — Vernon Jordan, who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to become a champion of civil rights before reinventing himself as a Washington insider and corporate influencer, has died at the age of 85.
His niece, Ann Walker Marchant, confirmed Tuesday that he died peacefully Monday night.
Former President Bill Clinton remembered Jordan as someone who “never gave up on his friends or his country.”
Jordan “brought his big brain and strong heart to everything and everybody he touched. And he made them better,” Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said in the statement.
After serving as field secretary for the Georgia NAACP and executive director of the United Negro College Fund, Jordan headed the National Urban League, becoming the face of Black America’s modern struggle for jobs and justice for more than a decade. He was nearly killed by a racist’s bullet in 1980 before transitioning to business and politics.
Under his leadership, the Urban League added 17 more chapters and its budget swelled to more than $100 million. The organization also broadened its focus to include voter registration drives and conflict resolution between Blacks and law enforcement.
His friendship with Clinton, which began in the 1970s, evolved into a partnership and political alliance. Although Jordan held held no official role in the Clinton White House, he was highly influential and had such labels as the “first friend.” He approached Colin Powell about becoming secretary of state and encouraged Clinton to approve the NAFTA agreement in 1993.
Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr., was born in Atlanta on Aug. 15, 1935, the second of Vernon and Mary Belle Jordan’s three sons. Until Jordan was 13, the family lived in public housing. But he was exposed to Atlanta’s elite through his mother, who worked as a caterer for many of the city’s affluent citizens.
He has received more than 55 honorary degrees, including ones from both of his alma maters — DePauw University and Howard University School of Law — and sat on several boards of directors.
Former President Barack Obama said that “like so many others, Michelle and I benefited from Vernon Jordan’s wise counsel and warm friendship — and deeply admired his tireless fight for civil rights.”