Vernon Jordan paved the way for Black leaders in business and politics

EXCLUSIVE: National Urban League President Marc Morial says Vernon Jordan had a 'behind-the-scenes influence' in the most powerful rooms in America

The impact of Vernon Jordan will span beyond his 85 years of life.   

Jordan, who died Monday evening, was a Black man with a pedigree not too many, Black or white, have been able to achieve. He advised presidents, was a civil rights leader, lawyer, investment banker and businessman.

He is also remembered as a mentor who sponsored many young people in business and politics who wanted better and greater for themselves and society.

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

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Jordan opened the doors to the highest levels and offices for Black Americans. Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League tells theGrio, “[Vernon Jordan] had a behind-the-scenes influence.”

Jordan was one of the first Black Americans to sit on a corporate board in the ’70s and ’80s. He remained on those boards throughout the years and his seat at the table opened doors for Black CEOs like Ken Chenault and Ursula Burns

Ken Chenault and Ursula Burns
Former American Express CEO Ken Chenault and former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns (Photo: Getty Images)

As Morial points out, “The common denominator for both of those Black [CEOs] was that Vernon Jordon was a board member of both of those companies.”

Vernon Jordan rose to the highest heights by doing the work; beginning as a young civil rights activist in the 1960s. He also served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund, head of the Voter Education Project and state director for the Georgia NAACP. Jordan was also a presidential advisor to various presidents, including Barack Obama and more notably Bill Clinton.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) with member of Howard University Board of Trustees Vernon Jordan (L) during the 2016 commencement ceremony at Howard University May 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jordan was also one of the national presidents of the Urban League and he is credited for the famous and annual State of Black America report. The report turns 45 this year with the latest data being released this June. 

Morial points out that the annual report’s sole existence is due to Vernon Jordan. “In 1976, Jordan watched President Ford deliver the State of the Union Address. Then-President Ford did not mention Black people, did not mention cities, poverty or civil rights,” recounts Morial.

“It was a speech as though the problems of Black America did not exist. As a result of that speech, Vernon said ‘I will do my own damn report.’”

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National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial participates in a panel discussion during the U.S. Conference of Mayors 84th Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton January 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

And that he did. Jordan pulled together experts from all areas to include “scholars and economists” and comprised his own report that year. 

In the ’80s, Vernon Jordan was the target of a white supremacist shooter in 1980 inside of a hotel in Wayne, Indiana. Morial recalls the “deranged” man was targeting Reverend Jesse Jackson and shot Jordan instead. Jordan survived the shooting and continued his work.

Morial says the news of Jordan’s death makes it is a “tough” day. He remembers the other, more private side of Jordan.

“He had a great sense of humor, he loved to tell stories,” says Morial.  

Vernon Jordan and Chairman Emeritus of Young & Rubicon Edward Ney attend the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste” Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis on March 3, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)

Jordan was also known as an avid golfer and one of his familiar vacation haunts during the summer was Martha’s Vineyard. 

As theGrio previously reported, 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.

theGrio’s Biba Adams contributed to this report.