Civil Rights Leader Vernon Jordan Talks About Obama, Clinton, and Lessons he Had Learned

hcsp.jpgA leader in the civil rights movement, a friend and adviser to presidents, the consummate Washington insider reflects on his own life, Obama’s chance for reelection and his relationship with Bill Clinton.

Like everybody else, Vernon Jordan hears the complaints about President Obama, that he hasn’t done enough for the people who elected him, and that includes black Americans. “And there is some legitimacy to it,” Jordan told The Daily Beast. “But he’s done a lot more in this area of inequality than George Bush, and he [Bush] got reelected.” That seems to be setting the bar rather low, but inequality is an area of the law, and of life, that Jordan knows a lot about. As a newly minted lawyer, he escorted Charlayne Hunter to integrate the University of Georgia, and he headed the Urban League when the civil-rights movement was in full swing.
Jordan cites the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation Obama signed as president, as emblematic of his leadership. “That was about making a concrete difference in an historic inequality in this country, and he got it done.” Jordan believes Obama’s reelection is more important than his election “because this country is more about re-affirmation than affirmation … the fact that the door to the White House and corner offices in America has opened to black people does not mean that all the doors of America are open-and I do believe he is the best person to open the remaining doors.”
When he talks about growing up in the segregated South, Jordan doesn’t dwell on the separate water fountains and colored bathrooms, or riding in the back of streetcars. He remembers how the public housing where he lived was right next to Atlanta’s five historically black colleges, and the inspiration he drew from that proximity. He remembers how he learned to swim, and to box, and to master public speaking at the colored YMCA, how his mother was always the president of the PTA, and how the church was the center of family life. “I was not in this segregated situation saying, ‘Woe is me,'” he says, reflecting on a life begun in the humblest of circumstances that took him to the highest reaches of power, first as a civil rights leader, and then as an advisor and friend to President Bill Clinton, equally loyal during times of scandal and times of triumph.
Jordan recoils when the media describe him as a powerbroker, Washington insider, or worst of all “a fixer,” but he says that by declining an official post in the Clinton administration after leading the president-elect’s transition team, he could be a better friend to the president. “I believe when you raise your hand, you give up a little bit of your independence, and I didn’t want to do that, and I didn’t think I had to do that to serve him, or be a good citizen and serve the country.” The images of Jordan golfing with Clinton during the height of the impeachment effort testified to their friendship even as Jordan was called to testify before the grand jury.
Source: The Daily Beast | Eleanor Clift