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Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and DePauw graduate, dies at 85

Posted at 1:47 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 04:07:15-05

WASHINGTON — He was long known for his work in civil rights and as a power broker in the nation’s capital, and he also made history here in Indiana. Vernon Jordan, longtime attorney and presidential confidant, has died. He was 85.

Jordan’s daughter, Vickie Jordan Adams, said in a statement obtained by ABC News that he died Monday night at his home in Washington, D.C.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Jordan would pass up an opportunity to attend the historically Black institution Howard University to enroll at DePauw University due to the urging of his mother. He was one of only five Black students attending the Greencastle school when he arrived on campus, and he was the only Black member of DePauw’s Class of 1957.

“I love this place — DePauw — because it prepared me to lead the life I have been blessed to live,” Jordan later said of his alma mater. “If I were to enumerate all the great gifts this university gave me, everything I learned, or all that my education made possible, I would need at least another four years. DePauw University nurtured my growth and maturity. I made lasting friendships here. And if I had my life to live over again, I would return to this place.”

“DePauw University has lost a dear friend and the world has lost a determined leader,” said Lori White, the first African American to serve as DePauw University’s president. “He spoke loudly — through words and deeds — as a civil rights activist and quietly as a trusted counsel to presidents. DePauw is better for having had him as a beloved alumnus, and the country and the world are better for having him as a leader.”

Jordan would later end up at Howard University’s law school and would work for the NAACP to help register Black voters during the 1960’s in the South. He became president of the National Urban League in 1973, and it was during that tenure in which he almost lost his life. Jordan was shot and seriously wounded by a white supremacist during a visit to Fort Wayne in 1980. Doctors say he almost died on the operating table several times, and he would remain in the hospital for more than three months.

Jordan would become well known as a friend and confidant to some of the nation’s most powerful people. Most notably, he was a longtime friend to Bill Clinton, often called Clinton’s closest adviser other than First Lady Hillary Clinton during his presidency. Jordan attempted to talk Colin Powell, at the time a Republican, into serving as Secretary of State under the Democratic president, an offer Powell passed up.

His friendship with Clinton would lead to one of the few controversies of Jordan’s career. In 1998, Clinton asked Jordan to help find a job for then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky as the investigation into Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky was intensifying. Jordan would eventually help get Lewinsky work with cosmetics company Revlon, where Jordan was a board member. Jordan was interviewed several times by independent counsel Ken Starr, but he was never accused of wrongdoing and was not mentioned in the final report on the scandal.

A cause of death for Jordan has yet to be announced at the time of this report.