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Thu, 08.15.1935

Vernon Jordan Jr., Lawyer, and Activist born

Vernon Jordan Jr.

*Vernon E. Jordan Jr. was born on this date in 1935. He was a Black lawyer and civil rights leader.

From Atlanta, Georgia, his father was a mail clerk in the U. S. Army, and his mother ran a local catering service. Jordan was educated in the Atlanta public schools and graduated from DePauw University in 1957. He attended the Howard University Law School, receiving his J.D. in 1960. After graduating and returning home to practice law, he became involved in a significant civil rights case suing the University of Georgia for failing to admit black students.

The suit, on behalf of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, resulted in a federal court order directing their admission.  Jordan received national attention in 1961 when he escorted Hunter through a violent mob of whites as she became the first Black student to attend classes at the University of Georgia. (Charlayne Hunter-Gault later became a newscaster on public television.)

Jordan left private practice and devoted full time to work in the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement.  In 1962 he was appointed Georgia field director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  He led the boycott of Augusta, Georgia, merchants who refused to serve Blacks.  In 1966 Jordan became director of the Southern Regional Council's Voter Education Project. The project sponsored voter registration campaigns in 11 southern states and conducted seminars, workshops, and conferences for candidates and office holders.

In 1970, Jordan took a six-month appointment as a fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard and became executive director of the United Negro College Fund. Two years later, when Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League, died; Jordan was appointed his successor.  Jordan developed a highly regarded research and information distribution outcome capacity as league director.  This included a policy journal--The Urban League Review--and the annual State of Black America reports.

The State of Black America, issued each January to coincide with the president's State of the Union address, became a major source of systematic facts on the Black condition in the United States and an important resource for identifying Black policy perspectives in America.  Jordan wrote a weekly syndicated column, lectured, and appeared on national television interview programs.

A frequent adviser to government, corporate, and labor leaders, he was frequently appointed to presidential advisory boards and commissions. In May of 1980, Jordan was shot in the back by a lone gunman waiting in ambush outside a Fort Wayne, Indiana, motel.  Although Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed white racist, was charged in the shooting, he denied involvement and was acquitted. Fourteen years later, awaiting trial on other charges, Franklin admitted he had shot Jordan.

After recovering from the attempted assassination, Jordan resigned as director of the Urban League. It became a partner in the Washington, D. C., offices of the Dallas-based firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld. Here he began serving on the boards of directors of nine major American corporations. Jordan continued to be an essential behind-the-scenes operative and advocate for civil rights interests. The 1992 Presidential election of Jordan's longtime friend Bill Clinton propelled Jordan to more influence.

In 2001 Jordan, Bill Bradley, and Marian Wright Edelman aided Laura Bush.  The focus was to launch the 2nd Annual “Close The Book On Hate” Campaign.  He is a senior managing director of the investment firm Lazard Freres & Co.  In 2002 he wrote the book "Vernon Can Read! A Memoir"

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Jordan led debate preparation and negotiation efforts on behalf of John Kerry, the (then) Democratic nominee for president.  That year, he was elected president of The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.  In 2006, Jordan served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, formed to make recommendations on U.S. policy in Iraq.  In 2017, Jordan served as the commencement speaker at the 163rd commencement of Syracuse University.  Vernon Jordan died on March 1, 2021.

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