Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir

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Overview

In 1955, as a college student home in Atlanta for vacation, Vernon Jordan had a summer job driving a retired white banker around town. During the man's afternoon naps Jordan passed the time reading books, a fact that astounded his boss. "Vernon can read!" the man exclaimed to his relatives. Nearly fifty years later, Vernon Jordan, longtime civil rights leader, adviser and close friend to presidents and business leaders, and one of the most charismatic figures in America, has written an unforgettable book about ...
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Overview

In 1955, as a college student home in Atlanta for vacation, Vernon Jordan had a summer job driving a retired white banker around town. During the man's afternoon naps Jordan passed the time reading books, a fact that astounded his boss. "Vernon can read!" the man exclaimed to his relatives. Nearly fifty years later, Vernon Jordan, longtime civil rights leader, adviser and close friend to presidents and business leaders, and one of the most charismatic figures in America, has written an unforgettable book about his life and times. It is a story that encompasses the sweeping struggles, changes, and dangers of black life during the civil rights revolution.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Vernon Jordan has made the advancement of civil rights his life's goal. As a boy in Atlanta, he learned from his parents how to survive in a Jim Crow world. After graduating from a predominantly white college, he built a legal career, helped desegegrate the University of Georgia, became a field director for the NAACP, and ran the United Negro College Fund and the National Urban League. Jordan's tale is an American success story.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The greatest value of Jordan's reading is that it tells the listener some things about the man.
Ebony
An inspirational life story...[Vernon Can Read!] charts the rise of this charismatic and influential leader.
Booklist
No one can gain a comprehensive view of the movement for equal rights...without paying attention to what Jordan stands for.
New York Times Book Review
... a recollection of the pain suffered and the bravery asserted by black Americans...in the struggle for political and economic equality.
Jill Nelson
A marvelous book, full of candor, humor and an intimate love for family.... Thank goodness [Vernon] can write, too.USA Today,
Book Page November
...candid, worldly, controversial and smart.... a marvelous memoir by a man who knows what to tell and how to tell it.
Publishers Weekly
Dismayed that his daughter, Vickee, showed little true comprehension of the world of the Deep South in which he grew up, a world of forced servility and oppression toward blacks, Jordan decided that telling his story would help to "bridge that gap" between their experiences. He set out to write a "very personal take on the black experience since the end of the Second World War." The title of this memoir comes from an incredulous outburst by Robert Maddox, "one of the leading figures in Atlanta's white elite" for whom Jordan worked as a chauffeur while home from college on summer break. The irony is that, although Jordan can write, the actual reading of his writing leaves much to be desired. Often a writer's reading of their own words adds depth to the work. Unfortunately, that formula fails here. The listener does not get the sense of being spoken to; instead Jordan reads in a somewhat formal, oratorical tone. Although the work does a fine job of chronicling the progress of blacks in Jordan's lifetime, it does not delve very deeply into Jordan's personal feelings and beliefs. This production's lack of personality echoes that sentiment. Based on the Public Affairs hardcover (Forecasts, Oct. 15, 2001). (Dec. 18, 2001) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
While Jordan's autobiography garnered interest from the moment its publication was announced, its ultimate form surprises. Disappointment awaits those expecting Clinton/ Lewinsky dirt, since the book "effectively ends in the 1980s. All that has happened to me since then is too close to be considered true memories," Jordan writes. But his narrative mission here is not recent political scandal. Jordan means to "bridge the gap" between the years African-Americans were forced to move to the back of the bus and the time when "a young black girl [Vernon's daughter Vickee] could be so confident in her humanity that she found it unfathomable that anyone could try and take it away from her." The bridge, of course, is Jordan himself, and he tells his success story with a concentration and devotion that gives it all the fervor and logic of a good long speech. While readers are treated to some particulars of Jordan's youth (waiting tables for his mother's catering business, attending segregated Atlanta schools in the 1940s and early '50s and then the predominantly white DePauw University) and the trajectory of his early career as a field director for the NAACP, executive director of the United Negro College Fund and president of the National Urban League), there are few more personal revelations. With its lack of extraneous detail and its studious avoidance of private thoughts, this is less a traditional memoir than an extended exposition of an impressive CV. Even so, it should remind people of this chapter in American history and Jordan's crucial role in it. (Oct. 22) Forecast: With Jordan's high profile, this is an automatic big seller. If it's marketed correctly, it should have a wide appeal, tooanyone interested in the history of the civil rights movement will appreciate this detailed account of the people and organizations that helped transform a segregated nation. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote from the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, January 2003: This is a moving memoir of courage, kindness and caring that chronicles the details (frequently grim) of growing up, by a distinguished African American leader who came of age just before and during the Civil Rights Movement. Vernon Jordan was raised in Atlanta. His parents taught him the value of hard work, honesty, and getting an education. He went to DePauw University in Indiana, an all-white school, and then got a law degree from Howard. This was followed by years of work as a civil rights leader, working with the NAACP, the United Negro College fund, and finally 10 years as the leader of the Urban League. Then, after opening many doors for black people, he went through them himself and became a successful corporate lawyer. Jordan is a "people person," and his book makes clear the importance of the many business and professional relationships he built up over the course of his life. The book's title is from one of Jordan's early employers who mockingly told his relatives that "Vernon can read!," right in front of him. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Perseus, 343p. illus. index.,
— Susan Offner
Library Journal
Many will remember Jordan as a close friend of former president Bill Clinton who tried to help intern Monica Lewinsky get a job after she left the White House. Few will note that he was the Georgia field director of the NAACP at the time civil rights leader Medgar Evers was head of the same organization in Mississippi. Jordan also served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund and eventually became president of the National Urban League after the death of Whitney Young. He attended DePaul University in the early days of the Civil Rights movement and worked to secure the rights of blacks in Georgia. This is a standard, run-of-the-mill autobiography until Jordan reveals the assassination attempt on his life and his decision to leave the Urban League to join a private law firm. The author's reading is flat at points, and his Southern accent and mispronunciations are grating; one wishes that an actor had been employed to provide some emotion and continuity to the narration. Recommended for libraries with African American history, biography, and American studies collections. Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786241002
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 600
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr, a major figure in the American civil rights movement, is now a managing director of the investment firm Lazard Frères & Co. -- Annette Gordon-Reed, author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School and a professor at New York Law School.

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Read an Excerpt

From the very beginning, I felt the tug of my mother's hope. It could not have been missed. I moved forward, propelled by her deep ambition and love for me-- two things I never had a moment's doubt about and which moved me to accept her guidance and to want to vindicate her faith in me. It's an almost irresistible challenge, when you have someone who thinks you are special and who works to see that you get the chance to shine. A bargain is struck, sometimes silent, sometimes spoken; their faith and commitment for your effort and success. If success is at all possible, you don't want to fail. You do everything you can not to fail. If there are times when things don't work out as you plan (and that often happens) a hard and honest effort fulfills the bargain. No matter what--you never break faith with those who support you.


This is not to say that I don't have a will of my own, or my own preferences. It just happened (nature or nurture?) that my mother and I were of the same mind on the main point: that I was to go as far as I could as quickly as I could. All children rebel at some points, but for the most part, I believed my mother was right. If she had a plan for my advancement, then I was all for it. I was so confident in my knowledge that, at the end of the day, she wanted what was best for me that I followed her instructions about the important things in life. Until she died, I never made a major decision without consulting her. Sometimes I didn't even get the chance to consult.


"Vernon, Jr., now wherever you go to college, you're going to join the ROTC."
"I don't want to be in the ROTC."
"It doesn't matter. Wherever you go to college, you're going to join the ROTC."
"Mama, what do you know about the ROTC."
"I don't know anything about the ROTC."
"Well then, why are you so insistent that I should join it?"
"All I can tell you is that all the white women I work for are sending their kids to the ROTC. There must be something to it."

"There must be something to it." That was how my mother thought about things. She hadn't figured out exactly why the ROTC was so important to the "white women." I don't believe she knew it was the upper class's method of keeping their young men out of harm's way as they performed their military service. But considering how things were between whites and blacks, the details didn't matter much. It was a simple, straightforward calculation. Whether you were talking about the ROTC, schools, medical care, political power--all the basics of life--white people were hoarding the best of the world and had frozen black people out. It just made good sense to pay attention to where whites were going and how they were using the enormous amount of resources and opportunities they had rounded up for themselves. Whatever was going on that could be good for us; Mama wanted us to be a part of it.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 My Mother's Son 13
2 At Home in the World 36
3 DePauw 68
4 Chicago Interlude 95
5 Howard Law School 108
6 Mr. Hollowell 126
7 Ms. Hurley and the NAACP 144
8 The Dollar and the Ballot 166
9 A World Opened Wide 191
10 Building Blocks 208
11 Building Bridges 228
12 At the Helm 249
13 Endurance 279
14 American Dream, American Reality 301
15 Family Matters 317
Epilogue 331
Acknowledgments 335
Index 337
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2003

    Thank you sir, for your mighty shoulders!

    Vernon Jordan is one of few lions of the Civil Rights era that remain. His life intersected with other seldom-mentioned lions that are with us no more such as Medgar Evans, Roy Wilson, Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson, and probably the most significant social engineer that never had (or desired) a spotlight in life or death, Whitney Young. I did not wait until 2001 to learn of Mr. Jordan's life, but I am thankful that Mrs. Gordon-Reed and he captured it in these inspirational pages. I admire and emulate Mr. Jordan for his courage, conviction, and vision. I will use his blueprint (with slight adjustments for a new era) to press forward with the work that he and those who came before him, knew we would not survive without.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2003

    Thank You Vernon for This Book!!!

    This book is absolutely great. I have greatly admired Mr. Jordan since his tenure with the National Urban League. This book has shown what obstacles and inspirations pushed Mr. Jordan into becoming the great man that he is and has always been. This is a book for all generations to be inspired by.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2003

    A Good, Quick Read

    I enjoyed this book about Vernon Jordan, who, before this readin it, I thought was only the guy who introduced Monica Lewinsky to President Clinton. This book is as much of a page-turner as an autobiography can get. Besides the history of Mr. Jordan that I was unaware of (such as heading the Urban League and his relationship with President Carter, which was quite interesting), there was black history on a personal level. However, this book focuses a lot on his early life, which, with all due respect, wasn't all that interesting. This book also left much to be desired (with only a small portion at the end) about his relationship with President Clinton, which, let's get serious, is how most people would know him name from. When he's talking about the Urban League and his power, he got a little cocky to me, which is why this book isn't a 5-star, but definitely 4.5-stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2003

    An Addictive Book!

    This book is a must read for anyone that have goals. It is a blueprint for success. Vernon was (and is still) hungry for success. It gives the uninspired a reason to hope, work hard, and never settle for less than what you can achieve if you work harder!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2002

    A Great Read

    I knew little about Vernon Jordan before reading this book. This book is well written, entertaining, extremely informative about the history of civil rights over the last 50 years, and very inspirational. If you know any teenagers, try to get them to read this book or better yet, read it with them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2002

    Inspiring

    I'm an African-American Male aged 44, who likes to read inspirational and motivational type books. I did not know that much about Vernon Jordan, but after engulfing this book within 3 days, I have an unquenchable desire to read another book about an African American person who's work has impacted our country. The story line & writing style/Ex.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2002

    The indomitable Human spirit

    This book is the epitome of the indomitable human spirit,the story of a poor black kid that rose from grass to grace despite herculean forces and obstacles against him,a lesson in human perseverance and the triumph of good over dark forces.We all have to remember our past to understand the present and project the future.Finally,it is a story of the very essence of our being.'If you trust him,He will take care of you'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2001

    Interesting...but Sad

    This book is well written and easy to read. It is an education into the mind of the successful black American and what spurs some of them onto a better life. Jordan's ideas such as 'white people were hoarding the best of the world and had frozen black people out' were very revealing about the African American motivation which rocketed some black Americans into the upper echelons of society today. Read it for the educational value.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2001

    Exceptional

    This book captured my heart when he talked about the respect, love and admiration he had for his mother. It captured my mind when he reminisced about his civil rights struggles and day-to-day struggles as a black man in a world dominated by white men, only to rise above the racism and become a powerful Attorney & rainmaker in Corporate America.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2001

    Excellent! Great!

    Mr. Jordan captures your heart & soul with stories of admiration, love and respect for his mother and captures your mind when telling stories of civil rights struggles. This is the story of a man who rose above the racisim, to become a powerful Attorney and rainmaker in corporate America. If after you've read this book, you haven't learned something; close the book, open it, and read it again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2001

    Yes, YOU CAN !

    I have read only 75 pages so far, but from what I have read, this book is/will be an awesome inspiration for anyone who wants to do something meaningful in their life. If a black kid, growing in the era of segregation, with so few resources and opportunities can do so much, YES YOU CAN TOO !!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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