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Vernon Jordan, civil rights leader and DC energy broker, dies at 85

After graduating from law school in 1960, he became a paralegal to Donald Hollowell, who had a very active civil rights practice in Atlanta. Mr Jordan worked closely on the case that desegregated the University of Georgia and became closer to Charlayne Hunter (later journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault), one of two young black plaintiffs who have been admitted after winning in court. The day she first attended school, Mr. Jordan was pictured escorting her around campus surrounded by a hostile crowd.

After the Georgia affair, 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 large and small. He said he tried to take inspiration from a friend, the vaunted director of the Mississippi office, Medgar Evers, who was later assassinated.

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

The Urban League, the embodiment of the black establishment, brought Mr. Jordan to New York and exposed him to a larger world. The organization drew on a wide range of prominent citizens, 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 this post, on a trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., In May 1980, he was in the company of local Urban League board member Martha Coleman, a white woman. , when a group of white teenagers in a car passed them and taunted them. Later, as Ms Coleman let him go to his hotel, he was shot in the back by a man wielding a shotgun. Mr. Jordan almost died on the operating table, had six surgeries and was hospitalized for 89 days.

Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed racist, was charged with the crime but acquitted at trial, though he later bragged about being the shooter. He was later convicted of other crimes, including the fatal shooting of two black joggers who ran with white women, and executed in Missouri in 2013.

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