Vernon Jordan
Jordan in 1973
Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr.

(1935-08-15)August 15, 1935
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
DiedMarch 1, 2021(2021-03-01) (aged 85)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
  • Attorney
  • business executive
  • civil rights activist
Years active1960–2021
  • Shirley Yarbrough
    (died 1985)
  • (m. 1986)
Children5 (1 with Yarbrough, 4 by marriage with Ann Cook)
RelativesThe Mighty Hannibal (cousin)

Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr. (August 15, 1935 – March 1, 2021) was an American business executive and civil rights attorney who worked for various civil rights movement organizations before becoming a close advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Jordan grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated in 1957 from DePauw University. In the early 1960s, he started his civil rights career, most notably being a part of a team of lawyers that desegregated the University of Georgia. He then continued to work for multiple civil rights organizations until the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, he became a close ally and friend of Bill Clinton and he served as part of Clinton's transition team. After Clinton's departure, Jordan began working with multiple corporations and investment banking firms up until his death. During the 2004 election, he worked for John Kerry's campaign.

Early life and education

Jordan was born on August 15, 1935, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Mary Belle (Griggs) and Vernon E. Jordan Sr.[1] He had a brother, Windsor. He was a cousin of James Shaw, a musician who was professionally billed as The Mighty Hannibal.[2]

Jordan grew up with his family in the racially segregated Southern United States.[3] He was an honors graduate of David T. Howard High School. Rejected for a summer internship with an insurance company after his sophomore year in college because of his race, he earned money for college for a few summers by working as a chauffeur to former city mayor Robert Maddox, then a banker. Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1957.[4] In an oral history interview archived at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, an interview conducted in 1964 with Robert Penn Warren for the book Who Speaks for the Negro?, Jordan described his difficulties at DePauw as the only black student in a class of 400.[5] He earned a Juris Doctor at Howard University School of Law in 1960. He was a member of the Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.[6][7]

Legal career and activism

Jordan returned to Atlanta to join the law office of Donald L. Hollowell, a civil rights activist.[8][9] The firm, including Constance Motley, sued the University of Georgia for racial discrimination in its admission policies.[9] 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.[9]

Jordan working on a voter education project in 1967.

After leaving private law practice in the early 1960s, Jordan became directly involved in activism in the field, serving as the Georgia field director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.[10] From the NAACP, he moved to the Southern Regional Council and then to the Voter Education Project.[10]

In 1970, Jordan became executive director of the United Negro College Fund.[11] He was president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981.

While still with the National Urban League, Jordan in 1981 said of the Ronald Reagan administration:

I do not challenge the conservatism of this administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.[12]

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.[13]

Assassination attempt

On May 29, 1980, Jordan was shot and seriously wounded outside the Marriott Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was accompanied by Martha Coleman at the time. Police thought initially that it might have been a domestic incident related to Coleman's life.[14]

Then-president Jimmy Carter visited Jordan while he was recovering, an event that became the first story covered by the new network CNN.[15]

The terrorist and neo-nazi, Joseph Paul Franklin, was charged but acquitted in 1982 of charges of attempted murder. However, in 1996, after having been convicted of murder in another case, Franklin admitted to having committed the shooting.[16]

Clinton administration

Vernon Jordan shares conversation with famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. At the time, Jordan was visiting President Clinton on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

Jordan, a friend and political adviser to Bill Clinton, served as part of Clinton's transition team in 1992–1993, shortly after Clinton was elected president. In the words of The New York Times:

For Mr. Clinton, Mr. Jordan's roles have been manifold: Golfing companion. Smoother of ruffled feathers (he put the president back in touch with Zoë Baird after the withdrawal of her nomination to be attorney general). Consoler in chief (after Mr. Clinton was defeated for re-election as governor in 1980, after the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr. in 1993). Conduit to the high and mighty (he took Mr. Clinton in 1991 to the Bilderberg conference in Germany, an exclusive annual retreat for politicians and businessmen). Go-between (he told Mike Espy he had to go as secretary of agriculture, helped win Warren Christopher a larger role as secretary of state and sounded out Gen. Colin L. Powell for a Cabinet job).[17]

In 1998 Jordan helped Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, find a job after she left the White House, and recommended an attorney.[18] His role was considered controversial given the scandal that the Clinton administration had suffered because of the president's involvement with the intern, and Jordan testified several times before the grand jury convened by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.[18] On October 1, 2003, a United States court of appeals rejected Jordan's claim for reimbursement for legal services related to assisting Clinton in scandals regarding Lewinsky and Paula Jones. Jordan asked the government to pay him $302,719, but he was paid only $1,215.[19]

In 1998, Jordan was interviewed by CBS news television program 60 Minutes.[20]

In the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, Jordan was one of three individuals (with Lewinsky and Sidney Blumenthal) of whom House impeachment managers recorded a deposition.[21]

Later activities and death

Jordan at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2019.

From January 2000 on, Jordan was a senior managing director with Lazard Freres & Co. LLC, an investment banking firm.[22] He was 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.[23]

He was a member of the board of directors of Revlon, Sara Lee, Corning, Xerox, and RJR Nabisco during the 1989 leveraged buyout fight between RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson and Henry R. Kravis and his company KKR.[23] A close friend of Jordan's was the Xerox tycoon Charles Peter McColough, who persuaded Jordan to join the board of trustees at Xerox.[23] 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.[24] That year he was elected president of The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.[25]

In 2006, Jordan served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, which was formed to make recommendations on U.S. policy in Iraq.[26]

In May 2017, Jordan served as the commencement speaker at the 163rd commencement of Syracuse University.[27][28]

Jordan died at his home in Washington, D.C., on March 1, 2021, at the age of 85, and was buried in Washington, D.C.'s Oak Hill Cemetery.[29][30]

Marriage and family

Jordan married Shirley (née Yarbrough), who died in 1985. They have a daughter,[31] Vickee Jordan Adams,[23] who has worked in public and media relations for Wells Fargo and FGS Global.[32]

In 1986 he remarried, to Ann Dibble Jordan and adopted her four children - Antoinette "Toni", Mercer, Janice and Jacqueline.[23] He has nine grandchildren, seven from his second wife's children, Janice, Mercer, and Toni.[33]


External videos
video icon Booknotes interview with Jordan on Vernon Can Read! A Memoir, December 23, 2001, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Jordan on Make It Plain, June 28, 2008, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Jordan on Make It Plain, November 16, 2008, C-SPAN

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.[36][37]

Legacy and honors


  1. ^ "Current Biography Yearbook". H.W. Wilson Company. March 2, 1972 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Duffy, John. "The Mighty Hannibal". Allmusic. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  3. ^ "Vernon Jordan, civil rights icon and former Clinton adviser, dies at 85". NBC News. March 2, 2021. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  4. ^ "Vernon Jordan: More than a 'First Friend'". March 12, 2001.
  5. ^ "Oral History Interview with Vernon E. Jordan, Jr, March 17, 1964, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries". Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  6. ^ "Notable brothers of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Inc". Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Inc.
  7. ^ "'We Cannot Take A Recess,' Vernon Jordan '57 Tells Sigma Pi Phi Centennial Celebration". DePauw University. June 30, 2004.
  8. ^ "Donald Lee Hollowell - A heroic presence in the Civil Rights Movement". State Bar of Georgia.
  9. ^ a b c "Vernon Jordan, Lawyer Who Helped Integrate UGA, Has Died". Flagpole. March 2, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Pengelly, Martin; Victoria Bekiempis (March 2, 2021). "Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and adviser to Bill Clinton, dies aged 85". The Guardian.
  11. ^ An Historical Look At the Impact of the United Negro College Fund and its Member Institutions on American History, UNCF.
  12. ^ The New York Times, 23 July 1981, p. 17.
  13. ^ "Vernon Jordan, Civil Rights Activist And Power Broker, Dies At 85". National Public Radio. March 2, 2021.
  14. ^ Moore Hall, Sarah (June 16, 1980). "Martha Coleman, the Shadowy Figure in the Vernon Jordan Case, Has Led a Troubled Life". People Magazine. Retrieved April 27, 2011.
  15. ^ "CNN First Hour: June 1, 1980". June 11, 2012. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021 – via YouTube.
  16. ^ Associated Press (April 9, 1996). "Racist Admits Sniper Attack On Rights Chief Vernon Jordan Franklin Was Acquitted In Trial 14 Years Ago But Now Admits It". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  17. ^ Apple, Jr., R. W. (January 25, 1998), "THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE: THE POWER BROKER; Jordan Trades Stories With Clinton, and Offers Counsel". The New York Times.
  18. ^ a b "Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and close ally of Bill Clinton, dies". CNN. March 2, 2021. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  19. ^ "Washington: Request For Legal Fees Rejected". The New York Times (October 1, 2003).
  20. ^ "Extent of Jordan's Help to Ex-Intern Was Unusual". The Washington Post. February 20, 1998.
  21. ^ Wire, Sarah D. (January 16, 2020). "A look back at how Clinton's impeachment trial unfolded". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  22. ^ "Vernon Jordan, civil rights icon and former Clinton adviser, dies at 85". NBC News. March 2, 2021.
  23. ^ a b c d e Fromson, Brett D. (February 6, 1998). "Jordan's 10 Board Positions Worth $1.1 Million". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  24. ^ Vernon Jordan '57 Named John Kerry's Lead Debate Negotiator & Elected President of Economic Club of Washington, DePauw University News, June 28, 2004
  25. ^ Bhattarai, Abha (June 3, 2012). "A quarter-century of big names in business". The Washington Post.
  26. ^ Iraq Study Group Members Archived January 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, United States Institute of Peace
  27. ^ "Vernon E. Jordan Jr. to Deliver Syracuse University's 2017 Commencement Address". SU News. March 22, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  28. ^ Muller, Jordan (May 14, 2017). "Vernon Jordan draws parallels between current political climate and civil rights era in 2017 commencement speech". The Daily Orange - The Independent Student Newspaper of Syracuse, New York. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  29. ^ Gangel, Jamie; Merica, Dan; Malveaux, Suzanne; Stracqualursi, Veronica (March 2, 2021). "Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and close ally of Bill Clinton, dies". CNN. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  30. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (March 2, 2021). "Vernon Jordan, Civil Rights Leader and D.C. Power Broker, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  31. ^ "Vickee S. Jordan And B. M. Adams To Marry in June". The New York Times. May 1, 1988. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  32. ^ Moore, Thomas (December 10, 2020). "Finsbury hires Wells Fargo's Vickee Jordan Adams as partner". PRWeek. Retrieved February 15, 2023.
  33. ^ "Vernon Jordan on Politics, Obama and Civil Rights". NPR. November 19, 2008.
  34. ^ Vernon Can Read!. PublicAffairs. June 17, 2009. ISBN 9780786749492 – via
  35. ^ Make It Plain Archived December 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. PublicAffairs Books.
  36. ^ "New Morning for the World", Joseph Schwantner Works List.
  37. ^ Joseph Schwantner Discography.
  38. ^ "Former Steering Committee Members | Bilderberg Meetings" Archived February 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Bilderberg Meetings
  39. ^ Daley, Suzanne (May 1, 1983). "BARNARD AWARD FOR MRS. KIRKPATRICK FOUGHT". New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  40. ^ "Spingarn Medals Awarded", Louisville Free Public Library
  41. ^ Adams, Biba (March 2, 2021). "Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and ex-Clinton advisor, dead at 85". Yahoo News. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  42. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed '84 to join the Harvard faculty". April 30, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  43. ^ "Barbara Tober to be Honored at 8 Over 80 Gala". The National Institute Of Social Sciences. April 2, 2017. Other honorees include designer Iris Apfel, actress, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, television producer Norman Lear...
  44. ^ Alonda, Thomas (March 8, 2021). "Howard University Names Law Library in Honor of Civil Rights Activist Vernon Jordan". Howard University. Retrieved March 9, 2021.