Vernon Jordan began life in one of the first public housing projects in America and ended life as a fixture in our country’s halls of power. Along the way, he became a foot soldier for civil rights, a trusted friend and counselor to presidents, and a loving husband, father, and grandfather.
Vernon navigated America’s boardrooms with an activist’s heart, working the levers of power in service of progress. And the countless business and political leaders who turned to Vernon for guidance did so because when he spoke, you could hear in his rich baritone the belief in an America that was capable of becoming an ever-more perfect union. It was a journey he’d lived. As a young lawyer, he went home to Georgia, to battle against unjust systems in the segregated South. As president of the National Urban League, he fought for economic justice because he knew that a job brought with it more than a paycheck; it brought dignity. As a civil rights leader shot in the back by a white supremacist, he came away from that near-death experience energized rather than embittered. As a high-powered lawyer and financier, “the Rosa Parks of Wall Street,” he was often the first in many rooms but never afraid to speak his mind.
Vernon Jordan knew the soul of America, in all of its goodness and all of its unfulfilled promise. And he knew the work was far from over. He liked to say that we had torn down what Dr. King called “sagging walls of segregation,” but we still had to deal with “the rubble”—with systemic racism, with inequity, with the injustice still faced by so many Black Americans. To honor him, and others of this Civil Rights generation, we must continue to do the same.
When eulogizing other leaders, Vernon liked to quote the great Reverend Gardner Taylor, and his words ring true today: “Something vast and noble has passed from among us. It is like a mighty oak has fallen, leaving an empty and gaping and glaring space against the sky where he stood.” Jill and I extend our deepest condolences to Ann, Vickee, and the entire Jordan family.