After graduating from law school in 1960, he became a trainee lawyer with Donald Hollowell, who had a busy one-man civil rights practice in Atlanta. Mr. Jordan worked closely on the University of Georgia overturned case and was close to Charlayne Hunter (later the journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault), one of two young black plaintiffs who were admitted to court after winning. On the day of her first school visit, Mr. Jordan was photographed escorting her to campus surrounded by a hostile crowd.
After the Georgia fall, he served as Georgia Field Director of the N.A.A.C.P. The job required him to travel the southeast regularly overseeing civil rights cases, large and small. He said he tried to follow a friend, vaunted director of the Mississippi bureau, Medgar Evers, who was later murdered.
He quickly became director of the Southern Regional Council’s Voter Education Project and, in 1970, was appointed Executive Director of the United Negro College Fund. A year later, his friend Whitney Young, the leader of the Urban League, drowned on a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, and Mr Jordan was recruited to fill the unexpected position.
The National Urban League, the embodiment of the black establishment, brought Mr. Jordan to New York and exposed him to another world. The organization relied on a wide range of prominent citizens, both white and black, and was closely associated with American corporations. During his tenure, the group published a widely read annual report entitled “The State of Black America”.
While holding that post on a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana in May 1980, he was in the company of a local Urban League executive Martha Coleman, a white woman, when a group of white teenagers sat in a car and passed them she mocked. Later, when Ms. Coleman fired him at his hotel, he was shot in the back by a man with a hunting rifle. Mr Jordan almost died on the operating table, had six operations and stayed in the hospital for 89 days.
Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed racist, was charged with the crime but acquitted in court, though he would later boast that he was the shooter. He was later convicted of other crimes, including the fatal shooting of two black joggers who ran with white women, and executed in Missouri in 2013.