Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and DC Power agent, dies at 85


After graduating from law school in 1960, he became a paralegal to Donald Hollowell, who had a busy individual civil rights practice in Atlanta. Mr. Jordan worked closely on the case that desegregated the University of Georgia and reached out to Charlayne Hunter (later journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault), one of two young black plaintiffs who were later admitted to win in court. On the day she attended school for the first time, Mr. Jordan was photographed escorting her to campus surrounded by a hostile crowd.

After the Georgia case, he served as the Georgia Field Director of the NAACP. The job required him to travel regularly throughout the Southeast to oversee civil rights cases both large and small. He said he tried to imitate a friend, the acclaimed Mississippi office director Medgar Evers, who was later assassinated.

Before long, he became director of the Southern Regional Council Voter Education Project and was appointed executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1970. A year later, his friend Whitney Young, director of the Urban League, drowned in a trip to Lagos, Nigeria and Mr. Jordan were hired to fill the unexpected vacancy.

The National Urban League, the embodiment of the black system, brought Mr. Jordan to New York and exposed him to the wider world. The organization was based on a wide range of prominent citizens, both white and black, and was closely associated with American business. During his tenure, the group began publishing a widely read annual report titled “The State of Black America.”

While in that position, on a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana in May 1980, he was in the company of a local Urban League board member, Martha Coleman, a white woman, when a group of white teenagers in a car drove them away. passed by and made fun of them. Later, when Ms. Coleman was dropping him off at his hotel, a man with a hunting rifle shot him in the back. Mr. Jordan nearly died on the operating table, underwent six surgeries, and was hospitalized for 89 days.

Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed racist, was charged with the crime but acquitted at trial, although he would later brag about being the gunman. He was later convicted of other crimes, including fatally shooting two black runners running with white women, and was executed in Missouri in 2013.

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