from Vernon Jordan and Annette Gordon-Reed (2001), Vernon Can Read! A Memoir (New York: PublicAffairs: 189162069X), pp. 306-7.


"I also approached Morris Abram, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, another New York firm. We had known each other since the late 1960s, socializing on many occasions. Morris had been the chairman of the board of the United Negro College Fund during my time there, and I had received my first honorary degree from Brandeis University shortly after his retirement as president. Morris had been lead counsel in the case that had ended the county-unit system in Georgia; he had defended civil rights workers in Americus, Georgia.... I put everything on the table to my friend Morris. It had been almost ten years since I had come to the Urban League, and I was ready to move on. The idea of going into the private sector, more specifically into a law firm, appealed to me. 'Would you,' I asked, 'be willing to approach your partners about taking me on as a partner?'

"Morris thought for a moment and said, 'Well, I'm sorry. That wouldn't be possible.'

"'Why not?'

"'Because we don't bring in laterals,' he said, meaning that the firm only made partners from the associates who had worked their way up at Paul, Weiss.

"That was not true. And more important, Morris knew that I knew it was not true. Suddenly thrust onto unsteady terrain, I said, 'You were a lateral. Ramsey Clark was a lateral. Ted Sorenson was a lateral. Arthur Goldberg was, too.'

"'That's different,' he said flatly.

"There are very few times when I can honestly say that I was thunderstruck by anything another person said to me. This was one of them. I sat looking at Morris Abram, seeing him clearly for the first time. Up until that second, I would have argued to anyon ein the world that he was my very good friend, which was exactly why I had approached him. Now he appeared alien--unrecognizable."


The idea of Morris Abram arguing that Ted Sorenson was a serious lawyer in a way that Vernon Jordan was not is perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this conversation. The subtext appears to be: "Lots of rich people would hire us because they could hobnob with Kennedy's friend Ted Sorenson, but the only people who will want to hobnob with you are Blacks, and they have no money to hire us." If so, then Morris Abram had a very limited imagination.


p. 10: "I first thought seriously of writing a memoir in the 1970s. Though still a young man, so much had happened to me--I had come so far in life, and black people had come so far during my lifetime.... An incident in the winter of 1970 prompted my thinking along these lines. My daughter, Vickee, was talking to our housekeeper, Mrs. Gaines.... One evening Mrs. Gaines told a story about taking the bus... to Gainesville, Florida, during the era of segregation--a trip that had taken her farther south and into even more harsh racial terrain. She got on the bus and took a seat in the middle section.... Only one other passenger was on the bus.... Not long into the trip, another white man boarded the bus, walked over to where Mrs. Gaines was sitting, and said, 'Get up and move further back. I want to sit here.' Vickie had been listening with great attention. She asked, 'Well, what did you do?' 'I moved,' Mrs. Gaines replied... in a totally matter-of-fact manner. Vickee was indignant and certain. 'I wouldn't have moved,' she declared. Mrs. Gaines leaned over, touched Vickee on the shoulder, and said, 'Yes, Vickee. You would have moved.' That colloquy between the generations opened my eyes. I had been in the thick of the civil rights movement almost from the time of my daughter's birth.... Yet it was clear that my child knew nothing of the world in which I, her mother, and Mrs. Gaines had lived..."

p. 49: "I went to my first political meeting in 1948, when I was in the eighth grade. One Saturday morning, our advisor... took a group of us to a meeting of the Fifth Congressional District Republican Organization., Presiding over the meeting was Elbert P. Tuttle.... [B]ut what was most impressive to me was that the secretary was W.J. Shaw, a black optometrist whose shop was on Auburn Avenue.... The Republican Party of the South was open to all races--a legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction.... Blacks played an active participatory role in the Republican Party of Georgia, and I have never forgotten that my first political meeting was an integrated occasion..."

p. 137 ff.: "Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter were the two in Georgia who came forward to carry on Horace's original [integration] effort. Both had been star pupils at Turner High School in Atlanta.... [T]hey had applied ot the University of Georgia and had been turned down.... I had an experience every lawyer dreams of: I found the 'needle'. There was a letter from a member of the board of regents to a university official on behalf of a young woman... extoll[ing] the virtues of this applicant and stat[ing] what a credit she would be the the school. As it turned out, this young woman had a profile almost identical to Charlayne's. She was admitted, whereas Charlayne had been told that her credentials were not good enough.... We had our smoking gun...."

p. 172: "I was so proud then (as I remain) to be able to say that I had the same job in Georgia that Medgar Evers had in Mississippi.... We said our farewells.... The next month, Medgar was dead, killed by an assassin's bullet in front of his house. His wife and children were inside at the time..."