Vernon Jordan, Civil Rights Activist and Adviser to Bill Clinton, Dies at 85

The D.C. power broker was selected to head the Urban League when he was still in his 30s

Last Updated: March 2, 2021 @ 8:16 AM

Vernon Jordan, a civil rights advocate and Washington, D.C., power broker who had the close ear of politicians and presidents like Bill Clinton for decades, has died. He was 85.

Jordan’s death was confirmed by his daughter Vickee Jordan in a statement to The New York Times. No cause of death was given.

Jordan, a highly influential figure in American politics, got his start in law after graduating from Howard University. He served as the Georgia field director for the NAACP, the executive director of the United Negro College Fund and in 1971 became the head of the National Urban league when he was still in his 30s.

Early in his career, his law office successfully sued the University of Georgia for racist discrimination policies and got the college to admit two Black students.

While head of the Urban League in the 1980s, he was critical of the Reagan administration, telling the New York Times, “I do not challenge the conservatism of this administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.”

Jordan had a close relationship with Bill Clinton, serving as part of his transition team between 1992 to 1993, as well as the president’s frequent golfing buddy. He would remain close to the Clinton family and endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

He also became entangled in the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky investigation, as Jordan had helped Lewinsky in her job hunt at the request of Clinton’s personal secretary, as CNN noted. Jordan testified several times before the grand jury as part of the independent investigation into the matter.

Jordan also served on many corporate boards, including companies such as American Express, J.C. Penney, Asbury Automotive and the Dow Jones & Company.

His memoir “Vernon Can Read!” was published in 2001, and another book collection of his public speeches called “Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out” was released in 2008.