Rights activist remembered as ‘giant of a man’

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Vernon Jordan saluted for his longtime vision, passionate leadership

By Taylor Goodson

Contributing Writer

Accolades and fond remembrances were rolling in this week for Vernon Jordan, a civil rights lawyer, business executive, political insider and former National Urban League President, who died March 1 at the age of 85.

“My father passed away last night around 10 p.m. surrounded by loved ones, his wife and daughter by his side,” Jordan’s daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams, told CBS News.

“Vernon E. Jordan Jr., was an extraordinary leader, an inspirational individual and a strong, steady and visionary civil rights leader,” said Los Angeles Urban League President and CEO Michael Lawson. “Because of his vision, the Urban League system is as strong and impactful as it is today.

“We will all miss this giant of a man.”

Jordan was born Aug. 15, 1935, in Atlanta, Ga. He graduated from DePauw University before gaining his law degree at Howard University in 1960. After graduating from college, Jordan became a law clerk to Donald Lee Hollowell, where he worked on a case that led to the desegregation of the University of Georgia.

After that case, he became the Georgia field director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the early 1960s, where he traveled throughout the southeast to manage different civil rights cases.

Jordan later became director of the Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council and served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1970.

While in his 30s, Jordan was chosen as the National Urban League president, replacing Whitney Young Jr. He held that post for nearly 10 years, surviving an assassination attempt in 1980 that left him hospitalized for three months and recovered five surgeries.

During his time in the hospital he was visited by President Jimmy Carter,

“The nation has lost one of its greatest champions of racial and economic justice,” National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said.

After leaving the National Urban League, Jordan became a partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld in 1982.

In 1992, Jordan became a campaign adviser to President Bill Clinton and also was the first African American to co-chair a presidential transition team.

“Vernon Jordan was a wonderful friend to Hillary, Chelsea, and me, in good times and bad,” Clinton said via Twitter. “We worked and played, laughed and cried, won and lost together. We loved him very much and always will.”

Another former president, Barack Obama, also paid tribute to Jordan.

“Like so many others, Michelle and I benefited from Vernon Jordan’s wise counsel and warm friendship — and deeply admired his tireless fight for civil rights,” Obama said. “We hope the memory of his extraordinary presence and the legacy of his work bring comfort to Ann, Vickee and his family.”

Other politicians also praised Jordan.

“Jordan’s leadership took our nation closer to its founding promise: all are created equal,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said via Twitter.

“For decades, Mr. Jordan fought for the advancement of civil rights in this country,” U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles said. “His contributions — first challenging segregation and discrimination as an activist in the 1960s and later continuing the fight in the leadership of the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and then as president of the National Urban League — benefited us all.”

Sen. Rafael Warnock, who was elected to the Senate from Georgia in January said via Twitter: “Praying for the family of Vernon Jordan today, a civil rights pioneer who fought to integrate the University of Georgia.

Jordan is survived by his daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams, his wife, two grandsons and three stepchildren.