• Fri. Apr 16th, 2021

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Vernon Jordan, Civil Rights Leader and D.C. Power Broker, Dies at 85

“I often describe Vernon as the first crossover artist,” Kenneth I. Chenault, a close friend and the former chief executive of American Express, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “He was able to go from being a leader the civil rights movement to being a leader in business, but never losing his commitment to racial equality.”

Mr. Jordan’s perch in the capital was at the Texas and Washington-based law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; he had been recruited in 1982 by Robert Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and capital power broker in his own right. In 1999 Mr. Jordan joined the Wall Street investment firm Lazard while remaining associated with Akin, Gump.

Last year Mr. Jordan was the subject of an hourlong PBS documentary, “Vernon Jordan: Make It Plain.”

His first wife, Shirley (Yarbrough) Jordan, whom he had met when they were students at Howard University, died of multiple sclerosis in December 1985 at 48. He married Ann Dibble Cook in November 1986.

In addition to his daughter, Vickee, he is survived by his wife, two grandsons and three stepchildren.

Mr. Jordan also leaves behind a long list of younger Black leaders whose careers he fostered and who describe him as a sort of father figure, among them Mr. Walker, Mr. Chenault and Ursula Burns, the former chief executive of Xerox and the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.

Mr. Jordan would go beyond dispensing advice or giving pep talks, Ms. Burns said on Tuesday. He took her to parties in Georgetown and introduced her to people like the Clintons and President Barack Obama, and later used his influence to get her a seat on corporate boards.

“Vernon made a point of bringing me into these circles,” she said. “I thought I was so special, and then I found out there were so many people he did that for.”

Clay Risen contributed reporting.