Vernon Jordan, executive and civil rights activist who advised Bill Clinton, dies at age 85

March 4, 2021

Vernon Jordan pictured at the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis on March 3, 2011 in New York City.

Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist and former close aide to President Bill Clinton, died at age 85.

Jordan died Monday, March 1, 2021, CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin reported. A cause of death was not immediately known.

“Vernon E. Jordan Jr. passed away peacefully last evening surrounded by loved ones. We appreciate all of the outpouring of love and affection,” Jordan’s daughter, Vickee Jordan, said in a statement, Sorkin reported.

Jordan, who was born in Atlanta and graduated from Howard University School of Law, became deeply involved in civil rights activism in the 1960s, challenging segregation and racially discriminatory policies.

Jordan held leadership roles in the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and the National Urban League, where he was president from 1971 to 1981.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he was a board member, called Jordan “an esteemed attorney and leader who helped drive the advancement of civil rights in America over a venerable career.”

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends. He will be missed,” the fund said.

In Washington, Jordan’s political experience and knack for connecting with people led him to forge close relationships with powerful figures, most notably Clinton. The New York Times reported in 1998 that Jordan did not have to ask to be put through to the Oval Office when he called the White House operators.

“Vernon Jordan was a giant in the civil rights community and in our nation overall,” said Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Vernon Jordan shown August 30, 1971, who was tapped to replace Whitney Young Jr., as head of the National Urban League.

Jordan had “a rare understanding of politics, people, and power,” Hewitt said, “and he used his insights to make connections once thought impossible and to make a better way for everyone.”

Working with leading corporate figures on the Urban League board, Jordan recalled, fueled an ambition in him to serve on corporate boards himself and break their color barriers. He began pivoting away from active leadership in the Urban League toward the role of lawyer and counselor for banks and corporations. In the following years he joined the boards of the Celanese Corporation, Bankers Trust, American Express and Xerox, among others, forging a network of connections that would serve him well for years to come as his influence grew.

His perch in the capital was at the Texas and Washington- based law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, to which he had been recruited in 1982 by Robert Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and capital power broker in his own right. In 1999 Jordan joined the Wall Street investment firm Lazard Frères while remaining associated with Akin, Gump.

Last year Jordan was the subject of an hourlong PBS documentary, “Vernon Jordan: Make It Plain.”

His first wife, Shirley (Yarbrough) Jordan, whom he had met when they were fellow students at Howard University, died of multiple sclerosis in December 1985 at 48. He married Ann Dibble Cook in November 1986.

In addition to his daughter, Vickee, he is survived by his wife, two grandsons and three stepchildren.

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