Vernon Jordan, who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to become a champion of civil rights before reinventing himself as a Washington insider and corporate influencer, has died, according to a statement from his daughter. He was 85.
“My father passed away last night around 10p surrounded by loved ones his wife and daughter by his side,” Jordan’s daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams, said in a statement released Tuesday to CBS News
The former president of the National Urban League rose to prominence as a civil rights activist with close connections in all corners of American politics, though he was closest with Democrats, including presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.
He also worked with Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Born on August 15, 1935, Jordan grew up in the segregated South and graduated from DePauw University in Indiana in 1957, the only Black student in his class. He then studied law at Howard University and began his career fighting segregation, starting with a lawsuit against University of Georgia’s integration policy in 1961 on the behalf of two Black students, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter. Jordan accompanied the two students to the UGA admissions office that year through an angry mob of White students.
He worked as a field director for the NAACP and as a director of the Southern Regional Council for the Voter Education Project before he became president of the National Urban League. In 1980, he survived an assassination attempt on his life.
“Today, the world lost an influential figure in the fight for civil rights and American politics, Vernon Jordan. An icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Tuesday.
“In 2001, Jordan received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of social justice activism. His exemplary life will shine as a guiding light for all that seek truth and justice for all people.”