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home and there was Benjamin Elijah Mays, walking across the Morehouse campus and I’m 20 yards behind him, and I’m trying to walk like he walks: tall, upright, straight. “Being situated near those campuses, and

seeing those professors, teachers, presidents, and students all dressed up, it made me want to be somebody,” he says. “I loved it.” Jordan knew early on that he wanted to be

a lawyer. And his mother expected no less of him despite the limitations and disadvantages African Americans faced through racial seg- regation due to Jim Crow laws in the South. “My mother was an unlearned, unlet-

tered woman with a Ph.D. in life,” Jordan says. “She was absolutely the most infl uen- tial person in my life. She wrote me every day from college through law school. I never made a move without discussing it with her fi rst. “T e only time I did not get to have

a chance to do this was when President Clinton off ered me the job of attorney general,” he says. Because she had suff ered a stroke, she was unable to talk. Even so, says Jordan, who turned down the off er because he was not interested in serving in the pub- lic arena at that time, he felt her support when she gently squeezed his hand as if to say, “I’m with you, Vernon. You made the right choice.” Jordan’s mother called him “Man,” even

as a child. T is continued when she wrote letters to him while he was an undergradu- ate at DePauw University (B.S., 1957) and at law school at Howard University (J.D., 1960). It was, in a sense, a self-fulfi lling prophecy put into place to counteract the racism present in the world. “Vernon was an adored child by his mother,” says

Ann Jordan, his second wife. (Jordan’s fi rst wife, Shirley, died from multiple sclerosis in 1985.) Not only did she have deep respect and ambitions for her son, Ann says, but she also imparted a strong work ethic. Jordan agrees. “My mother was the president of

the PTA from fi rst grade until I fi nished high school. When my younger brother and I were in diff erent schools, she was the president of both PTAs. T at was a lesson, right there at home, in leadership,” he says.

A WORK ETHIC TAKES HOLD It’s clear that Jordan adopted his mother’s values. As a teenager, he worked as a waiter for her catering business. In high school, he attended the National Conference on Citizenship in Washington, D.C.,


reported on it for the school newspaper, and won honors in the State Negro Voters League Oratorical Contest for speaking on “T e Negro in America.” During his undergraduate and law school years, he

spent summers working as a chauff eur and butler for Robert F. Maddox, the president of the First National Bank of Atlanta. An incident from this job later became the inspiration for the title of Jordan’s fi rst book, Vernon Can Read!, a memoir published in 2001. One afternoon between fi nishing his driving duties

and serving dinner to Maddox and his family, Jordan had some downtime. He settled in to read some books in Maddox’s library, which was stocked with works from Shakespeare to Browning. When Maddox stumbled upon the scene, he was shocked at what he saw. First off , a servant ought not to have been in his personal library. Even more disconcerting was that a black man was reading a book. Jordan explained that he was a college student with plans to become a lawyer. Stunned by this declaration, Maddox later made an



CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Jordan with his father and brother. Jordan with his mother and brother. Jordan with his fi rst wife Shirley during their courtship. Jordan as president of the National Urban League, a position he held from 1971-1981.

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