Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Vision

BOND: And the experience you had at Howard Law School -- did you envision then that you would become a Thurgood Marshall-like person or an A.T. Walden-like person that just --

JORDAN: I wanted to be.

BOND: You'd spend your life as a lawyer in the courtroom, as opposed to the path that you ultimately took. Was that your idea? That you'd be Thurgood Marshall?

JORDAN: My idea was that I would be a litigator in civil rights. And after law school, came back and went to work for Don Hollowell. And I worked for Don Hollowell for a year. Roy Wilkins offered me a job as field director for the NAACP. I took that. I did that for a couple of years. And Les Dunbar offered me a job at the Southern Regional Council. I did that for a little while. And then I went to work for the Poverty Program, to do something about my own poverty. I did that for a very short time. And then I succeeded Wiley Branton, a great civil rights lawyer who had come from Little Rock to run the -- from Pine Bluff, actually, to run the Voter Education Project. I worked for him and succeeded him as head of the Voter Education Project. And --

BOND: But at the same time, when you go to work for the NAACP, you step away from being a lawyer.


BOND: And you don't come back to it until you go to Akin Gump many, many years later.

JORDAN: I never came back to litigation.

BOND: No, you didn't come back to that, but you come back to the profession --


BOND: -- when you come to Akin Gump. So something happens to interrupt this vision of yourself as a litigator, and I'm guessing -- before we go to that, the big case that Hollowell's firm has is the case against the University of Georgia. And there's this great photo of you escorting Charlayne Hunter to the University of Georgia. That had to be tense beyond all imagination.

JORDAN: It was six months after I finished Howard University Law School. And Horace Ward, who had finished Northwestern, now Judge Ward, U.S. District Court Judge, escorted Hamilton Holmes. And my feeling at the time was "I am doing what I went to law school to do." That "this is why I went to Howard Law School. This is why I wanted to follow in the footsteps of A.T. Walden and Thurgood Marshall. This is -- this is the manifestation of my beliefs about why I wanted to be a lawyer." And in that process, we didn't have sense enough to be afraid. There was no fear attached. And we did that in January of '61. There were no federal troopers, there were no state troopers, we had no protection. But we had a court order that we had won in Judge [William] Bootle's court. And we were just acting pursuant to and consistent with that court order. And we never talked about protection. We just got in that car, drove down -- I did the driving -- drove down to Athens, and did what we had to do while Attorney Hollowell and Attorney Constance Baker Motley went to Macon to argue against the stay before Judge Bootle. And if you remember, Judge Bootle actually gave the stay, and stayed the implementation of his order in the middle of the process of registrating these two students. And then Hollowell and Motley went to Atlanta and Judge [Elbert] Tuttle, Chief Judge of the Circuit -- Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, overruled Bootle. And then the process continued.

BOND: Then it goes to the Supreme Court?

JORDAN: It did not go to the Supreme Court, I don't think.

BOND: Because I remember a great cartoon in The Constitution, "From Bootle to Tuttle to Black," a play on the old "Tinker to Evers to Chance."

JORDAN: Yeah. Right. Right. Yeah, that's right. But maybe that's -- yeah, but what was important is that the Supreme Court let the Bootle order stand. Let the Tuttle order stand, rather.