Sunday, May 29, 2005

Vernon Jordan

The city nearest to the farm on which i grew up was Fort Wayne, Indiana. To the extent that Fort Wayne is known at all, it doesn't have a particularly good reputation. For example, it's the home town of the fictional character Frank Burns from M.A.S.H. I think it's a decent place though, with some interesting history and geography (the St. Mary's and St. Joseph's Rivers combine to form the Maumee in Fort Wayne).

In 1980, Vernon Jordan, then the president of the Urban League, visited Fort Wayne. At the time, this was a pretty big deal to my family. My parents still had some progressive tendencies since this was before the Reagan era when their brains were replaced. I might have been the only 16 year-old in my rural part of Indiana who was aware of Jordan's visit, but that probably only made it cooler to me. I'm sure i didn't have any appreciation for Jordan's role in the civil rights movement and i wasn't a political wonk, yet by Fort Wayne standards he was a rock star.

But it all went really bad when Jordan was shot by a white supremacist named Joseph Paul Franklin. The first news reports were bleak, suggesting that Jordan had little chance of survival. He did pull through obviously, and Franklin was arrested though later acquitted (he eventually admitted the shooting). I'd like to say that my reaction was one of concern for Jordan, but honestly i was embarrassed. I was embarrassed to live in a place that was going to be forever associated with the assassination attempt of a prominent civil rights leader.

Today is the 25th anniversary of that assassination attempt. Sadly, Jordan is probably best remembered now for his minor role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal (he's alleged to have obtained a job for Lewinsky at Revlon, on whose board he served). I'm not naive enough to think that Jordan wasn't a Washington insider with a lot of connections, but i will always remember him as a man who almost gave his life for what he believed in. He might not be widely remembered, but he's a hero to at least one Indiana farm kid.

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