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Vernon Jordan death: Civil rights giant and former Bill Clinton advisor dead at 85

Gustaf Kilander
·2-min read
Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” Campaign on March 3, 2011 in New York City. (Getty Images)
Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” Campaign on March 3, 2011 in New York City. (Getty Images)

Civil rights leader and former Bill Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan has died aged 85. His daughter Vickee Jordan said in a statement that he “passed away peacefully last evening surrounded by loved ones”.

“We appreciate all of the outpouring of love and affection,” she added.

He served as the executive director for the United Fund, which funds scholarships for Black students, and as president of the National Urban League for ten years, from 1971 to 1981, according to NBC News.

Mr Jordan headed up the Urban League after graduating from Harvard Law School, and his advice was sought after by those on the top of government and business.

He had a close relationship with President Bill Clinton whom he had befriended years before Mr Clinton entered the fight for the presidency in the 1992 election. Mr Jordan was selected as the co-chairman of Mr Clinton’s presidential transition and became a close advisor and golfing buddy to the 42nd President, The New York Times reported.

“From civil rights to business, Mr Jordan demonstrated the highest quality of leadership and created a path forward for African-Americans where there were none,” the chairman of the Democratic National Committee Jaime Harrison said according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Read more: Follow live updates on the Biden Administration

Mr Jordan was born in Atlanta, growing up in the segregated city during the 1950s. After being rejected from a summer internship at an insurance company after his second year at college because of his race, he worked as a driver for former Atlanta Mayor Robert Maddox who by that point had become a banker.

Graduating from DePauw University in Indiana in 1957, he returned to Atlanta to join the law firm of civil rights activist Donald Hollowell.

He left private law in the early 1960s, becoming the NAACP field director in the state of Georgia, then joining the Southern Regional Council, and subsequently the Voter Education Project.

After leaving the National Urban League in 1981, he joined the DC office of Dallas law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes.

Holding no official position in the Clinton White House, he still wielded a lot of influence and was at times referred to as the “first friend”.

NBC News White House Correspondent Geoff Bennett tweeted: “We are losing an entire generation of civil rights leaders: Vernon Jordan, John Lewis, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Emma Sanders, Charles Evers, Elijah Cummings, Amelia Boynton Robinson and so many more. May they all rest in power.”

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams wrote: “Mourning the passage of my friend, the extraordinary Vernon Jordan. He battled the demons of voter suppression and racial degradation, winning more than he lost. He brought others [with] him. And left a map so more could find their way. Love to his family. Travel on with God’s grace.”

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