Vernon Jordan, who rose from Jim Crow Deep South to become a civil rights leader and later a negotiator who skillfully shuttled the corridors of American political and corporate power, has died at the age of 85.
His wide range of connections and his reputation for outspokenness have made him a go-to advisor to CEOs and politicians. Among his best-known associates was the president Bill clinton, who he befriended when Clinton was a rising star in Arkansas politics in the 1970s.
While his ultimate Washington insider status whose unrepentant defense of the role of financial interests in politics drew criticism, he obscured both a prejudiced youth and a notable role in the civil rights movement for years. 1960. This work has been life threatening at times, including in 1980, when he was shot by a potential assassin outside of an Urban League meeting.
“Vernon E Jordan Jr passed away peacefully last night surrounded by his loved ones. We appreciate all the outpouring of love and affection, ”her daughter Vickee Jordan said in a statement.
Jordan was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1935. Her mother ran a successful restaurant business, and as a teenager Jordan often joined her as a waiter. The experience allowed him to be exposed to local white lawyers, businessmen and the world beyond his own.
Jordan left Georgia to attend college at DePauw University in Indiana, where he became aware of his status as a black person in white America. He told the Financial Times in 2018: “We were reading the history of civilization and my classmates, who had gone to private schools and fine high schools in the township, were in chapter six; I had a hard time getting out of the preface.
While in college in the 1950s, he worked as a chauffeur for former Atlanta Mayor Robert Maddox. Maddox was shocked to learn that Jordan was a college student and once yelled “Vernon can read!” – which later became the title of Jordan’s memoir.
After college, he attended law school at Howard University in Washington, the elite black school that would produce several renowned civil rights lawyers. He then returned to Atlanta to work with famous lawyer Donald Hollowell.
Hollowell, with Jordan’s help, successfully represented a young black woman who filed a lawsuit to desegregate the University of Georgia. Jordan would later go to work for various civil rights groups in the 1960s, traveling through rural Georgia to register voters – work that threatened to lynch the Ku Klux Klan.
By the 1960s, black America had grappled with how it wanted to confront white America, with Jordan choosing to favor the path of economic progress through traditional avenues. “For everything to work, we cannot have the same roles and skills,” he said.
In 1970 Jordan and his family moved to New York City to lead the United Negro College Fund, then join the National Urban League. He was almost killed in 1980 when he was shot after a NUL meeting.
Jordan’s career took a corporate turn in 1982 when Bob Strauss, the poobah of the Democratic Party, asked Jordan to join his Washington law and lobbying firm, Akin Gump. From that perch, Jordan would join top-notch boards such as Xerox, Dow Jones, and RJR Nabisco.
As told in the book Barbarians at the door, it was Jordan who warned RJR CEO Ross Johnson that a management offer could lead to a hostile takeover.
Jordan, who never ran for office, did not have an official role in the Clinton White House, despite being close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Jordan was also at the heart of one of the lowest moments of Bill Clinton’s presidency, when he was drafted to help White House intern Monica Lewinsky with whom Clinton was having an affair find employment. at Revlon, the cosmetics group where Jordan was a board member. and close to his boss, Ron Perelman.
Jordan was called to testify before a grand jury by Special Prosecutor Ken Starr, but has never been charged with wrongdoing.
In 1999, Jordan joined boutique investment bank Lazard, where he worked from New York for the week before returning home to Washington on Thursday night. His role at Lazard was largely what he had been doing for decades: making high profile presentations and negotiating peace between the titans.
Although he supported Hillary Clinton on Barack obama During the 2008 Democratic primary, the first black president of the United States eventually came close to Jordan. This pair, along with Bill Clinton, joined a golf game in 2015 on Martha’s Vineyard where Jordan had been a summer staple since the 1970s.
“I am the ultimate optimist. Because you have to believe that you can make something happen. I don’t know how to tell you that, and it might sound a little crazy, I always knew I was going to be someone, ”he told FT in 2018.