Tampa Bay Times
Civil rights leader and close Clinton ally dies at age 85
ATLANTA — Vernon Jordan, a civil rights leader and a close adviser to former President Bill Clinton, passed away Monday evening. He was 85.
His death was confirmed in a statement to the New York Times by his daughter, Vickee Jordan.
Mr. Jordan was born in Atlanta, and grew up in the city’s segregated society during the 1950s. He was an honor graduate of David Tobias Howard High School. Rejected for a summer intern’s job with an insurance company after his sophomore year in college because of his race, he earned money for a few summers for college by working as a chauffeur to former city Mayor Robert Maddox, then a banker.
Mr. Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., in 1957. He returned to Atlanta to join the law office of Donald L. Hollowell, a civil rights activist.
Mr. Jordan was part of the legal team that helped Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes win admission as the University of Georgia’s first African-American students in 1961.
He later organized voter registration drives in the South, headed the United Negro College Fund and National Urban League, and joined a powerful law firm in Washington, D.C., where he worked with policy-setting groups and served on the boards of leading national corporations.
After leaving private law practice in the early 1960s, Mr. Jordan became directly involved in activism in the field, serving as the Georgia
field director for the NAACP, then moved on to the Southern Regional Council and then to the Voter Education Project.
In 1970, Mr. Jordan became executive director of the United Negro College Fund. He was president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981.
That year, he resigned from the National Urban League to take a position as legal counsel with the Washington, D.C., office of the Dallas law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
On May 29, 1980, Mr. Jordan was shot and seriously wounded outside the Marriott Inn in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was accompanied by Martha Coleman at the time. Police thought initially that it might have been a domestic incident related to Coleman’s life.
Joseph Paul Franklin was acquitted in 1982 of charges of attempted murder. However, in 1996, after having been convicted of murder in another case, Franklin admitted to having committed the shooting.
Mr. Jordan served as part of Clinton’s transition team in 1992–93, shortly after
Clinton was elected president.
His friendship with Clinton, which began in the 1970s, evolved into a partnership and political alliance. He met Clinton as a young politician in Arkansas, and the two connected over their Southern roots and poor upbringings.
Although Mr. Jordan 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 pass the NAFTA agreement in 1993. Mr. Jordan also secured a job at Revlon for Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern whose sexual encounters with the president spawned a scandal.
Mr. Jordan’s actions briefly drew the attention of federal prosecutors investigating Clinton’s actions, but he ultimately was not mentioned in a final report issued by special prosecutor Ken Starr.