A new public broadcasting program spotlights the life of one of the most influential African American figures in the United States and one of DC’s most notable citizens: Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. The one-hour film, “Vernon Jorden: Make It Plain,” premiered on Sept. 1, 2020, on WETA PBS and will air nationally on other public television stations later this year.
From filmmaker Dawn Porter (who earlier this year directed “John Lewis: Good Trouble”), the film explores the remarkable journey of Jordan from modest Southern origins to national renown as a pioneering attorney, businessman, civil rights leader, and as a fixture (could one also say a “fixer?”) on the DC scene.
Jordan’s story is told principally through a chronological narration of his life and accomplishment, most of it taken from recent (2019) interviews with and narration by Jordan himself. His early life in Atlanta is limned, where Jordan describes the treasured influence of his mother Mary and his early academic successes (including a law degree from Howard University). His activities in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s are highlighted, culminating in his ten-year tenure as director of the Urban League.
After an assassination attempt in 1980 almost killed him, Jordan eventually entered corporate life with both a major law firm and a major investment bank, though never abdicating the fight for civil rights and Black economic advancement. To highlight his broad influence, the film offers significant footage on his relationships with presidents from LBJ to Barack Obama, showing numerous clips and stills of those encounters over the years to remind you of his weight in American politics. Yet, with all his influence and authority, Jordan never ran for public office.
Interviewed in the film are President Bill Clinton, to whom Jordan is a friend and adviser, corporate figure Kenneth Chenault, and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and a host of other notables.