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Civil rights leader Vernon Jordan dies at 85

The former president of the National Urban League passed away peacefully at home, his family said.

Vernon Jordan Getty

Vernon Jordan has died, multiple outlets confirmed on Tuesday (March 2). According to his niece Ann Walker, the 85-year-old civil rights leader passed away peacefully at home on Monday evening (March 1) surrounded by his wife and family.

“It was just the way he would have wanted it,” she told CNN, noting that Jordan enjoyed his favorite dinner and dessert before going to bed. The cause of his death has not yet been revealed.

As the former president of the National Urban League, Jordan rose to prominence as a civil rights activist and worked closely with several politicians. He was connected to multiple Democratic presidents, including Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama; and also worked alongside Republicans Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

On Twitter, Obama said he and Michelle “benefited from Vernon Jordan’s wise counsel and warm friendship.” The former president added that he “deeply admired” Jordan’s “tireless fight for civil rights.”

“We hope the memory of his extraordinary presence and the legacy of his work bring comfort to Ann, Vickee and his family,” he wrote.

In a statement provided to CNN, Clinton remembered Jordan as somebody who “brought his big brain and strong heart to everything and everybody he touched.”

“He was never too busy to give good advice and encouragement to young people. And he never gave up on his friends or his country,” Clinton continued. “He was a wonderful friend to Hillary, Chelsea and me — in good times and bad. We worked and played; laughed and cried; won and lost together. We loved him very much and always will.”

Jordan was born on Aug. 15, 1935 in the segregated South. He graduated from Indiana’s DePauw University in 1957 as the only Black student in his class. Jordan went on to study law at Howard University and filed a lawsuit against the University of Georgia’s integration policy in 1961.

He also worked as the Georgia field director for the NAACP and as a director of the Southern Regional Council for the Voter Education Project. While serving as the president of the National Urban League, Jordan survived an assassination attempt.

“Today, the world lost an influential figure in the fight for civil rights and American politics, Vernon Jordan,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday. “An icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled.”

“In 2001, Jordan received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of social justice activism. His exemplary life will shine as a guiding light for all that seek truth and justice for all people,” he added.

Later in life, Jordan also excelled in the corporate world and was on the board of directors for several major companies.

“He spoke loudly through words and deeds as a civil rights activist and quietly as a trusted counsel to presidents,” DePauw University President Lori S. White said. “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.”

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