DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana in 1957 and earned a law degree from Howard University in 1960. He joined the law firm of Donald L. Hollowell in Atlanta, where Constance Baker Motley also worked. The firm won a suit in Federal court against the University of Georgia over the enrollment of Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, and Jordan gained national coverage escorting Hunter to the admissions office past a mob of white protesters.
Jordan later served as Georgia NAACP Field Director, as Director of the Southern Regional Council's Voter Education Project and as Executive Director of the United Negro College Fund. In 1970 he was named President of the National Urban League, where he originated the annual State of Black America reports.
On May 29, 1980 Jordan was shot by Joseph Paul Franklin in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Franklin was acquitted of attempted murder in 1982 but later confessed to the shooting.
After recovering from his injuries, Jordan resigned from the Urban League and joined the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He was part of President Bill Clinton's transition team in 1992-1993 and continued to serve as an adviser to Clinton, a close friend. In 2000 he became Senior Managing Director of Lazard Freres & Co., LLC, an investment banking firm. He serves on a number of corporate boards.
"What I know about this world is that white people will take care of themselves. And what I have learned is that if you are where they are on an equal basis, they cannot take care of themselves without taking care of you."Jordan was awarded the 2001 NAACP Spingarn Medal. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.