An influential civil rights
, and gentleman
. Best known to most as a friend of President Clinton
who testified during the Monica Lewinsky scandal
, for being accused of asking Lewinsky
to lie to investigators in exchange for a job. Allegations of such blackmail
never made it to Ken Starr
's final report. As Vernon puts it, "There are some in this country who think that I was not born until January 20, 1993.” (Clinton was inaugurated on 20 January 1993.)
Vernon Eulion Jordan is self-made man in the words' truest meaning. He was born and raised in 1935 in Atlanta, Georgia to a father who was a post officer and a mother who ran a catering business. As a child, he had an early interest in business, which he describes in his memoir, Vernon Can Read. From an early age, he was involved in activities ranging from delivering newspapers, selling golf balls, polishing brass for neighbors in his housing project to working at his mother's catering business. On one occasion, he helped his mother cater a meeting of the Lawyer's Club, a collection of powerful white men. He says he learned how to act, dress and speak from attending such functions.
He graduated with honors from his high school in 1953, and then attended DePauw University in Indiana, where he was the only black student in his class, and one of five in the university. He was the quintessential big man on campus, excelling in basketball and public speaking. While most considered his career options to be a preacher or a teacher, he wanted to be a lawyer.
After graduating from Howard University Law School in 1960, he went back home to Atlanta, where his work as a lawyer was limited at first. The large law firms in Atlanta were not eager to hire him, and Jordan says in his memoirs that there were few jobs available in city, state, or federal government for black lawyers, and that even the state bar was segregated. His early work consisted mostly of civil rights cases. He is best known to history buffs as the man who escorted Charlayne Hunter (now the CNN journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault) into the University of Georgia. Jordan had helped organize an integrated student body there, and then helped Hunter to classes that day amid a hostile group of protestors.
In the same decade, he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a delegate to a White House Conference on Civil Rights, and later was appointed as the head of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, the director of the Voter Education Project, and head of the United Negro College Fund. Jordan's work at the National Urban League is well-known, since the organization gained most of its influence. Jordan, being a born salesman, attracted large corporate sponsors to the League. This controversial move more than tripled the organization's budget and allowed it to hire more employees, thus helping to maintain its mission of improving the economic status of African Americans.
However, some found this move responsible for what they called the "mainstreaming" of the organization, making it more of a general urban renewal organization than a voice of social protest. However, at a meeting of corporate sponsors in 1971, he told them, "Don't just give us money and don't just show up for the equal opportunity day dinner. That is not enough when you look at the black consumer power in this country. It's not enough for you to come, shake our hands, and be our friends. We want in." That was his humorous and straightforward way of saying that the corporations should start putting blacks on their corporate boards. He himself has served for dozens of corporate and nonprofit boards, including such major corporations as Dow Jones, Xerox, and currently American Express.
On May 29, 1980, Jordan was the victim of a sniper shooting by a white supremacist, but survived. Jordan resigned from the National Urban League the following the year, and joined a law firm/lobbying organization in Dallas. This increased his popularity in Washington D.C., which would play a role in his appointment as a general advisor to President Clinton on various matters, from foreign trade to domestic race relations.
He is well known to this day as a gentleman. Always one to speak eloquently on a wide range of subjects, dress well, and have a personality that can range from that of a distinguished professor to relating to his audience like an old friend, with a jovial personality that he occasionally reveals.