After graduating from law school in 1960, he became a law clerk to Donald Hollowell, who had a busy one-man civil rights practice in Atlanta. Mr. Jordan worked closely on the case that desegregated the University of Georgia and grew close to Charlayne Hunter (later the journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault), one of two young Black plaintiffs who gained admission after winning in court. On the day she first attended school, Mr. Jordan was photographed escorting her onto the campus surrounded by a hostile crowd.
After the Georgia case, he served as Georgia field director of the N.A.A.C.P. The job required him to travel regularly throughout the Southeast to oversee civil rights cases both large and small. He said he tried to model himself after a friend, the vaunted director of the Mississippi office, Medgar Evers, who was later assassinated.
In short order he became director of the Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council and was named executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1970. A year later his friend Whitney Young, the head of the Urban League, drowned on a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, and Mr. Jordan was recruited to fill the unexpected vacancy.
The Urban League, the embodiment of the Black establishment, brought Mr. Jordan to New York and exposed him to a wider world. The organization drew on a wide range of prominent citizens, both white and Black, and was closely associated with corporate America. During his tenure the group began issuing a widely read annual report titled “The State of Black America.”
While holding that post, on a trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., in May 1980, he was in the company of a local member of the Urban League board, Martha Coleman, a white woman, when a group of white teenagers in a car passsed them and taunted them. Later, as Ms. Coleman was letting him off at his hotel, he was shot in the back by a man wielding a hunting rifle. Mr. Jordan nearly died on the operating table, underwent six surgeries and remained hospitalized for 89 days.
Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed racist, was charged with the crime but acquitted at trial, though he would later boast of having been the gunman. He was later convicted of other crimes, including fatally shooting two Black joggers who were running with white women, and executed in Missouri in 2013.