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unforgettable statement to his family as they were seated at the dinner table, with Jordan standing in a pressed white jacket and black tie, a towel over his arm, serving vichyssoise. “I have an announcement to make,” Maddox said. “Vernon can read!” T is resonated with Jordan because it symbolized

the expectations placed on him by society and how they diff ered from his plans for himself. “It defi ned where I was supposed to be, as opposed to where I wanted to be,” he explains. T roughout his life, Jordan faced countless


limitations. As a child, when he rode the bus, he had to sit at the back. He couldn’t attend the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech, which were reserved for white students. Upon graduating from college, he was denied a Phi Beta Kappa key despite a superior performance. It was a system that needed change. So after law

school, he applied his ambitions directly to the Civil Rights Movement. His fi rst job as a lawyer, in 1960, was for Donald Hollowell, a leading civil rights attor- ney in Atlanta. Jordan worked on Holmes v. Danner, a case that resulted in desegregation of the University of Georgia. After a decision in favor of the plaintiff s, it was Jordan who escorted black student Charlayne Hunter through a crowd of white protestors as she registered for classes. In 1961, Jordan became Georgia fi eld director for the

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he made speeches, organized, and opened new NAACP branches, coordinated demonstrations, and called for economic boycotts of industries that did not employ black people. Jordan then joined the Southern Regional

Council (SRC), where he says he broadened his horizons, began publishing articles on current issues, and learned how to manage the fi nances of a large organization. In 1964, Jordan became the director of the SRC’s

Voter Education Project, where he coordinated voter registration drives and counseled the electorate. T e impact of this work is still felt today in a higher num- ber of state, local, and federal black elected offi cials. Jordan’s reputation as a civil rights leader contin- ued to grow, and in 1970 he accepted the position


of executive director of the United Negro College Fund. One year later, he was named president of the National Urban League. He led the organization for the next 10 years, during which time he became increasingly involved in national politics. In 1980, Jordan was shot by a white supremacist

who was acquitted but later confessed to the shooting. Jordan survived the gunshot wound and spent 98 days in the hospital, where he received bedside visits from important political fi gures including Jimmy Carter and then-California governor Ronald Reagan. Many assume this experience led to a professional shifting of gears. But he denies this and explains that he had one mission: to get back to work. Of his tenure leading the National Urban League,

Jordan says he felt honored to serve. “ I loved it. But I didn’t love it so much that I wanted to be embalmed in it,” he says with a grin. And so in 1982, he moved into the private sector, taking a job in the Washington, D.C., offi ce of Akin Gump. “At that particular time it was not clear that a black

person could make that successful transition. So it was important to me to know whether I could make that transition. And it was important that others do the same thing. And many did,” he says. In the private sector, in addition to his work at Akin

Gump, Jordan has been senior managing director at Lazard, a preeminent fi nancial advisory and asset management fi rm, since 2000. He has also served as a key strategist and adviser to many prominent leaders, including former presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton, with whom he remains a close friend. He continues to serve on several boards, including the American Express Company, and as a trustee for Howard and DePauw universities.

ELEMENTS OF CHANGE Jordan recognizes that society, in many ways, has changed over the course of his life. “Stunned!” is how he felt when he watched President Barack Obama, a black community organizer, declared the winner of the 2008 presidential election. And Jordan has doz- ens of stories to share about changes he has personally experienced, like receiving an honorary degree from the University of Georgia, which in 1957 would not


“When I went to music practice, to the theater, to the movies, I WALKED THROUGH COLLEGE CAMPUSES. Being situated near those campuses, seeing those professors, teachers, presidents, and students all dressed up, it MADE ME WANT TO BE SOMEBODY. I loved it.”—VERNON JORDAN

FROM LEFT: Jordan with daughter Vickee, Jordan with Supreme Court Justice Thurogood Marshall. Jordan joking with former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

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