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Vernon Jordan, Former National Urban League President, Dead at 85

Jordan was the former president of the National Urban League and became a close adviser to Pres. Bill Clinton during his administration. A civil rights activist, Jordan also consulted former Pres. Barack Obama.

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In this March 3, 2011 photo, Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing ToWaste” Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)

Civil rights leader, Democratic strategist and presidential insider Vernon Jordan died at his home in Wash., D.C., Monday evening at age 85. His cause of death was not disclosed.

Jordan was the former president of the National Urban League and became a close adviser to Pres. Bill Clinton during his administration. A civil rights activist, Jordan also consulted former Pres. Barack Obama.

A native of Atlanta, Ga., Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Indiana in 1957, where he was the only Black student in a class of 400. He detailed his experience as an undergrad in Robert Penn Warren‘s 1965 book, Who Speaks for the Negro?

Jordan went on to graduate from Howard University School of Law in 1960 and was a prominent member of Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.

At one time a field director for the NAACP, Jordan’s passing was noted by Derrick Johnson, the current president of the organization. “Today, the world lost an influential figure in the fight for civil rights and American politics, Vernon Jordan,” Johnson said in a statement early Tuesday. “An icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled.”

“In 2001, Jordan received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of social justice activism,” said Johnson. “His exemplary life will shine as a guiding light for all that seek truth and justice for all people.”

On Twitter, fellow Georgian Stacey Abrams remembered Jordan as well. 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,” she said.

Journalist Jonathan Alter praised Jordan’s legacy. “Vernon Jordan’s epic journey from Jim Crow Georgia to the civil rights movement to the pinnacle of the American establishment is a classic American story,” Alter said. He was also one of the most engaging and charismatic people I’ve ever known—and a gifted storyteller on a summer afternoon.

In May of 1980, Jordan was shot outside of an Indiana hotel. As he recovered, Jordan was visited by then-President Jimmy Carter. The president’s visit and the shooting became the very first story covered on CNN, then the nation’s brand new, 24-hour cable news network.

After his time as an adviser to the Clinton White House, Jordan served on the board of several major corporations, including Revlon, Sara Lee, Corning, Xerox and RJR Nabisco.

His 2001 memoir, Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir, won the Best Nonfiction Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

In 2017, in one of his last major appearances, Jordan was the commencement speaker at Syracuse University.

Jordan leaves to cherish his memory his wife Ann Dibble Jordan, daughter Vickee Jordan Adams and seven grandchildren.

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