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Vernon Jordan (1935–2021), civil rights leader and political advisor

by Linnea Crowther

Vernon Jordan was a civil rights leader who was president of the National Urban League as well as a friend and advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Urban League and civil rights work

A graduate of Howard University School of Law, Jordan began his work as a civil rights activist while working as a young lawyer in Atlanta. His firm sued the University of Georgia for its discriminatory admissions policies. Jordan rose to become the state field director for the NAACP and held several other leadership roles before being named executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1970 and then president of the National Urban League in 1971, while he was still in his 30s. As he led large, civil rights focused organizations, Jordan became a prominent figure in the fight for racial equality.

Clinton connection

Jordan became close friends with Clinton two decades before he became president, and that friendship continued as Clinton ran for president and entered the White House. Jordan was among the president’s closest confidants and advisors, and he played a notable role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, including helping the former intern find a job outside the White House. In later years, Jordan served on the boards of companies including American Express, Revlon, and J.C. Penney.

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Notable quote

“Throughout my career and my professional life, I have been able to go to sleep at night confident that whatever negotiations I did that day I have been able to do the right thing. That’s been my guide even when people didn’t understand it.” —from a 1996 interview with the New York Times

Tributes to Vernon Jordan

Full obituary: The New York Times

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