Vernon Eulion Jordan, Jr. (born August 15, 1935) is an African-American lawyer, business executive and civil rights activist in the United States. A leading figure in the civil rights movement, he was chosen by President Bill Clinton as a close adviser. Jordan has become known as an influential figure in American politics.
Vernon Jordan was born in Georgia to Mary Jordan and Vernon E. Jordan Sr; he has a brother Windsor. He is the cousin of James Shaw, a musician who is professionally billed as “The Mighty Hannibal.” He is a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church with his childhood church – St Paul AME Church in Atlanta and now is a member of the historic Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC. (The site of two Presidential Prayer Breakfasts.)
Jordan grew up with his family in Atlanta’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 because of his race after his sophomore year in college, he earned money for a few summers for college by working as a chauffeur to the former city mayor Robert Maddox, then a banker. Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1957. He earned a law degree at Howard University School of Law in 1960. He is a member of the Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.
Jordan returned to Atlanta to join the law office of Donald L. Hollowell, a civil rights activist. The firm, including Constance Motley, sued the University of Georgia for racial discrimination in its admission policies. The suit ended in 1961 with a Federal Court order demanding the admission of two African Americans, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton E. Holmes. Jordan personally escorted Hunter past a group of angry white protesters to the university admissions office.
Jordan left private practice in the 1960s became directly involved in activism in the field, serving as the Georgia field director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. From the NAACP, he moved to the Southern Regional Council and then to the Voter Education Project.
In 1970, Jordan became executive director of the United Negro College Fund.] He was president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981. On May 29, 1980, Jordan was shot and seriously wounded outside the Marriott Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana. When then-president Jimmy Carter visited Jordan while he was recovering, that event that became the first story covered by the new network CNN.
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. Jordan, a friend and political adviser to Bill Clinton, served as part of Clinton’s transition team in 1992–1993, shortly after he was elected President. In the words of The New York Times: “For Mr. Clinton, Mr. Jordan’s roles have been manifold: Golfing companion
Since January 2000, Jordan has been Senior Managing Director with Lazard Freres & Co. LLC, an investment banking firm. He is also a member of the board of directors of multiple corporations, including American Express, J.C. Penney Corporation, Asbury Automotive Group and the Dow Jones & Company.
He is formerly a member of the board of directors of Revlon, Sara Lee, Corning, Xerox, and RJR Nabisco during the 1989 leveraged buy-out fight between RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson and Henry R. Kravis and his company KKR. A close friend of Jordan was the late Xerox tycoon Charles Peter McColough, who convinced Jordan to join the Board of Trustees at Xerox. McColough served as a mentor and friend of Jordan’s until McColough’s death.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Jordan led debate preparation and negotiation efforts on behalf of John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President. That year he was elected president of the Economic Club of Washington.
In 2006, Jordan served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, which was formed to make recommendations on the U.S. policy in Iraq.
He married Shirley (née Yarbrough), who died in 1985. They have a daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams, who works in media relations for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. In 1986, he remarried, to Ann Dibble Jordan. He has nine grandchildren, seven from his second wife’s children, Janice, Mercer, and Toni.
• His memoir, Vernon Can Read! (2001), covered his life through the 1980s, and was written with the historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed.
• A collection of his public speeches, with commentary, called Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out (2008)] (Public Affairs, 2008).
• Jordan also served as the narrator for American composer Joseph Schwantner’s New Morning for the World: “Daybreak of Freedom,” a collection of quotations from various speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr..