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U.S. activist and lawyer Vernon Jordan dies

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Vernon Jordan, who grew up in the segregated South to become an influential leader in the American civil rights movement, Washington politics and Wall Street, died on Tuesday at age 85.

He grew up in a housing project in Atlanta, and was later the only Black person in his class at DePauw University in rural Indiana.

Jordan earned a law degree at Howard and returned to Atlanta to fight for civil rights. Among his cases was one that integrated the University of Georgia in 1961.

He went on to work for the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and later became head of the National Urban League. That opened doors to corporate boardrooms, where he was often the only African American.

Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates described him as, “kind of the Rosa Parks of Wall Street.”

He joined the Washington lobbying powerhouse Akin Gump, and became a close confident of Democratic politicians.

After Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992, he named Jordan to lead his transition team.

He never accepted a government job, and in 1999 joined the New York financial giant Lazard.

The NAACP’s legal defense fund said in a statement it was “deeply saddened” by Jordan’s death, calling him “an esteemed attorney and leader who helped drive the advancement of civil rights in America over a venerable career.”

Video Transcript

- Vernon Jordan, who grew up in the segregated South to become an influential leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, Washington politics, and Wall Street, died on Tuesday at age 85. He grew up in a housing project in Atlanta and was later the only black person in his class at DePaul University in rural Indiana.

Jordan earned a law degree at Howard and returned to Atlanta to fight for civil rights. Among his cases was one that integrated the University of Georgia in 1961. He went on to work for the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, and later became the head of the National Urban League. That opened doors to corporate boardrooms, where he was often the only African American.

Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates described him as kind of the Rosa Parks of Wall Street. He joined the Washington lobbying powerhouse Akin Gump and became a close confidant of Democratic politicians. After Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992, he named Jordan to lead his transition team. He never accepted a government job and, in 1999, joined the New York financial giant Lazard.

The NAACP's Legal Defense Fund said in a statement it was quote, "deeply saddened by Jordan's death," calling him quote "an esteemed attorney and leader, who helped drive the advancement of civil rights in America over a venerable career."