Vernon Can Read!: A Memoirby Vernon E. Jordan, Annette Gordon-Reed
As a young college student in Atlanta, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. had a summer job driving a white banker around town. During the man’s post-luncheon siestas, 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, now a senior/p>
As a young college student in Atlanta, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. had a summer job driving a white banker around town. During the man’s post-luncheon siestas, 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, now a senior executive at Lazard Freres, long-time 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.
The story of Vernon Jordan’s life encompasses the sweeping struggles, changes, and dangers of African-American life in the civil rights revolution of the second half of the twentieth century.
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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.
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This memoir was a great story of how someone who had so little to begin with helped a whole race and nation gained so much as a result of his work and accomplishments. Vernon was a hard worked in everything he did and life and challenged everything at that time. He was a huge civil rights leader and worked hard to bring equality to the nation the US of A and to blacks and all jews. This man should always be remembered all with names of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys because he did all this stuff for a whole group of people and when he was almost done with heading the charge he passed along the knowledge to the next generation so that his efforts would not be in vein and equality in the USA would be more than ever.