Vernon Jordan, civil rights icon and former adviser to Bill Clinton, dies at 85

By Jonna Lorenz
Vernon Jordan, civil rights icon and former adviser to Bill Clinton, dies at 85
Civil rights icon Vernon Jordan chats with then-President Barack Obama before Obama delivers the commencement speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C., on May 7, 2016. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo

March 2 (UPI) -- Vernon Jordan, a civil rights icon and close ally who counseled former President Bill Clinton, has died at the age of 85, his family said Tuesday.

His daughter said Jordan died late Monday at his Washington, D.C.-area home. The cause of death wasn't immediately disclosed.


"My father passed away last night around [10 p.m.] surrounded by loved ones his wife and daughter by his side," Vickee Jordan Adams said in a statement to CBS News. "We appreciate everyone's thoughtfulness and prayers."

After graduating from the Howard University School of Law, Jordan was tapped to lead the Urban League in 1971 and went on to advise political figures and play a leading role in the civil rights movement.

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Jordan ultimately formed a close connection with Clinton and later served as co-chair of his presidential transition team in 1992, after the Arkansas governor defeated incumbent President George H.W. Bush.

Jordan later served on the board of trustees at Howard University between 1993 and 2014, was a senior managing director of Lazard Fréres & Co. in New York and senior counsel of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.

President George W. Bush is introduced by Vernon Jordan, president of the Economic Club of Washington, before a keynote address at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C., on October 26, 2005. File Photo by G. Fabiano/UPI

Jordan was also executive director of the United Negro College Fund and a member of corporate boards for companies including American Express and Asbury Automotive Group.

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Jordan survived an assassination attempt in 1980, when he was shot by an unseen sniper in Indiana while walking with his wife Martha at a Fort Wayne hotel.

"The slug from a .30-06 rifle struck a chain-link fence and broke into three pieces. The projectiles struck Jordan in the lower back, knocking him to the pavement and ripping a fist-sized hole in his intestine," UPI reported at the time.

Gunman and serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, an admitted racist, was ultimately acquitted in the shooting but admitted years later that he'd shot Jordan. Franklin died in 2013.

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"I felt a sharp, sudden pain in my back and I thought I was dreaming, that I would wake up and it would be gone. But I knew I had been shot," Jordan testified at Franklin's trial in 1982.

Jordan underwent five operations in 16 days at an Indiana hospital before moving to New York City for an additional 84 days in hospital.

"Today, America mourns the loss of a giant of the Civil Rights movement," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted Tuesday. "His leadership took our nation closer to its founding promise: all are created equal.


"May it be a comfort to his family that so many across America mourn with and pray for them at this time."

Notable deaths of 2021

Betty White attends the media preview for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's Beastly Ball fundraiser at the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles on June 11, 2015. The actress died December 31. She was 99 years old. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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