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March 2, 2021

Classroom resource: Civil rights leader Vernon Jordan dies at age 85


Directions: Read the AP news article on the passing of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan here. Then read the summary, watch the video from 2018 and answer the discussion questions. Follow along with the transcript here. You may also want to read Jordan’s obituary in the New York Times here

If time allows, read the transcript of this NewsHour interview with Vernon Jordan from 2001, about his book: “Vernon Can Read! A Memoir.”


Vernon Jordan, a lawyer and civil rights activist, died on Monday at the age of 85. Jordan worked with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and was president of the National Urban League. He also served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Jordan’s daughter, Vickee Jordan Adams, released the statement Tuesday to CBS News: “My father passed away last night around 10p surrounded by loved ones his wife and daughter by his side,” she said.

In this NewsHour video recorded on April 4, 2018, Judy Woodruff interviewed Jordan along with syndicated columnist Connie Schultz, Vann Newkirk of The Atlantic and Brittany Packnett, co-founder of Campaign Zero, to discuss the lessons of the civil rights movement and messages passed down to today’s activists and citizens.

Here is one exchange from the interview:


Well, let me just remind your audience of a name that nobody remembers.

And that’s the name of E.D. Nixon. When Rosa Parks was arrested, she didn’t call Martin, who was the new pastor at Dexter Church. She called E.D. Nixon, the president of the local NAACP in Montgomery, and an A. Philip Randolph labor man.

And it was E.D. Nixon who called Dr. King and said: “Dr. King, this bus thing is more than I can handle. I’m not educated enough, I’m not smart enough. We need you to come be our leader.”

And Martin said to him, “Well, E.D. Nixon, I will think about it.”

And Nixon said, “Well, Reverend, you best have thought about it by 7:00, because the meeting is in your church.”


And so the meeting took place.

And it was there, thanks to E.D. Nixon, that King accepted the challenge of being the leader. So, we do have to remember Martin. And we do. But we ought not to forget E.D. Nixon.


The others who were around who played an important role as well.



Discussion questions:

  1. Do you know an E.D. Nixon in your life — as Vernon Jordan stated, someone in your community who is a leader but may not be as famous as other leaders?
  2. How does Jordan speak of the legacy of Dr. King? What does Jordan mean when he says “I think it can be summed up with two sentences – We have come a long, long way. And we still have a long, long way to go”? (in response to Woodruff’s question: “How do you both celebrate the good that’s come from all the work that’s been done, but inspire people to keep going?”)
  3. How have you been impacted by the social justice values of civil rights leaders like Jordan and Dr. King?
  4. Have you heard of the NAACP or the National Urban League? What do you know about these organizations? If you’re not sure, how could you find out?

EDUCATOR’S NOTE: If you are interested in submitting an Educator Voice blog piece or a lesson plan, we’d love to hear from you. Write vpasquantonio@newshour.org to share insights and for more information.

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