Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and ex-Clinton advisor, dead at 85

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Biba Adams
·4 min read
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‘The last thing he’d ever do is betray a friendship,’ President Clinton once said of Jordan, the former National Urban League head.

Civil rights leader, Democratic strategist and presidential insider Vernon Jordan died at his home in Washington D.C. Monday evening at age 85. His cause of death was not disclosed.

Jordan was the former president of the National Urban League and became a close adviser to President Bill Clinton during his administration. A civil rights activist, Jordan also consulted former President Barack Obama.

In this March 3, 2011 photo, Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)
In this March 3, 2011 photo, Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)

“The last thing he’d ever do is betray a friendship,” Clinton said of Jordan back in 1996. “It’s good to have a friend like that.”

An Atlanta, Georgia native, Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Indiana in 1957, where he was the only Black student in a class of 400. He detailed his experience as an undergrad in Robert Penn Warren‘s 1965 book, Who Speaks for the Negro?

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Jordan went on to graduate from Howard University School of Law in 1960 and was a prominent member of Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.

At one time a field director for the NAACP, Jordan’s passing was noted by Derrick Johnson, the current president of the organization. “Today, the world lost an influential figure in the fight for civil rights and American politics, Vernon Jordan,” Johnson said in a statement early Tuesday. “An icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled.”

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“In 2001, Jordan received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of social justice activism,” said Johnson. “His exemplary life will shine as a guiding light for all that seek truth and justice for all people.”

News of his death sparked an array of social media tributes and notes of condolence.

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In May of 1980, Jordan was shot outside of an Indiana hotel. As he recovered, Jordan was visited by then-President Jimmy Carter. The president’s visit and the shooting became the very first story covered on CNN, then the nation’s brand new, 24-hour cable news network.

After his time as an adviser to the Clinton White House, Jordan served on the board of several major corporations, including Revlon, Sara Lee, Corning, Xerox and RJR Nabisco.

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His 2001 memoir, Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir, won the Best Nonfiction Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

In 2017, in one of his last major appearances, Jordan was the commencement speaker at Syracuse University.

Jordan leaves, to cherish his memory, his wife Ann Dibble Jordan, daughter Vickee Jordan Adams and seven grandchildren.

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