I attended a meeting of some government-related board in downtown Detroit a few years back. It was my day off, so I was dressed casually, which I believe that day was clean dark-wash jeans, Frye boots, blouse and a blazer. I mention this only because I started noticing the clothing others were wearing. Most of the people in the room were men, so I concentrated on them. They fell into three distinct groups.
(I have probably told this story before, because I’ve told all my stories before. I’m out of stories, sorry.)
At the bottom, the full-slob cohort, were the journalists. A writer from one of the dailies rolled in sporting hair that could have used a cut three months ago, an untrimmed mustache that no doubt captured food and some sort of got-dressed-in-the-dark shirt/pants combo. Another well-paid reporter came in jeans, a ratty sweater and a pair of sneakers I might choose to wash my car. Of the photographers from the TV stations we will say little, because they always dress like slobs, but at least they have an excuse — their next assignment might be a working fire, and you don’t need, or want, to wear your best outfit for that. Their on-camera partners were the only reporters in the room who wore what I would have considered the uniform for men in my business, when I started in it a million years ago — khakis or khaki-adjacent pants, shirt with a collar, maybe a tie but OK if not, and a jacket of some sort.
The second group were the white men on the board, or serving the board somehow. They looked fine. Their clothes were off the rack and untailored, but clean and appropriate, if unremarkable.
The last were the black men, who looked fiiiiiine. Not Sunday-church fine, but really good. Grooming was impeccable; they all looked like they’d had haircuts and shaves five minutes ago. Suits, good ones. Shirts in beautiful colors, ties of creamy silk that matched in interesting ways, picking up the shirt or pinstripe color in a subtle echo. And the accessories, oh my — cool eyeglass frames, tie bars, fancy wristwatches.
I mention all this because I chuckled over this Robin Givhan appreciation of Vernon Jordan, who died this week:
Over the years, it was impossible to miss Jordan in a crowd. Often that was because he was the only Black person in it. But he was noticeably well-dressed. His suits were attentively tailored and he had a love for Turnbull & Asser shirts, Charvet ties and fedoras. His style was full of European élan, Adam Clayton Powell flair, Wall Street pinstripes and Sunday morning going-to-church polish. His aesthetic drew upon the collage of influences that make this country exceptional but that connect us on common ground. Years ago, after writing about his style — a story for which he did not return my messages — Jordan called to express his gratitude after it was published.
If you live in a city with a sizable black population, you know that nothing about the meeting I described is particularly unusual. It’s pretty commonplace for powerful or well-off black men to dress well, and racists will snicker about some preacher’s purple suits, but fuck them. I think it’s notable that another fancy dresser in Washington, Roger Stone, ends up looking like a Batman villain when he leaves the house in the morning, but Jordan, in every photo I ever saw of him, just looks completely relaxed and natural. He wears his clothes, but Stone’s costumes wear him. Stone is a fop. Jordan had style.
Fort Wayne people remember when Jordan was shot by a would-be assassin there, in 1980, I believe. The shooter was Joseph Paul Franklin, who did the same to Larry Flynt, and escaped punishment for both, although he got the needle in 2013 for another murder. The story in Fort Wayne was that Jordan was brought into the ER and no one knew who he was until a black surgeon recognized him on the gurney and got him the top-level treatment that perhaps saved his life. Jordan, in town for a speaking engagement, was shot while returning to his hotel with a white woman who was not his wife. She was his driver/handler for his visit, and while many inferred what you’d expect from her presence, I don’t know that there was anything untoward about the fact she walked with him to the door of the hotel. They said Jordan was a charming man and a smooth talker, and who knows, maybe he was giving her career advice. But Franklin was enraged by interracial couples, too — it’s why he shot Flynt, after seeing an interracial photo spread in Hustler.
I recommend Givhan’s story. She captures not only his style, but his magnetism:
In public, as an eminence grise, Jordan used charm to batter down doors. His style reflected the words of Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston: “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
…As a college student, he worked as a chauffeur and his employer regularly used the n-word. This elderly White man, after discovering that Jordan spent down time reading in his library, announced with condescending dismay to his family that “Vernon can read!” The phrase later became the title of Jordan’s memoir.
“When I have told this story to younger people, they often ask why I was not more angry at Maddox. How could I have continued working for him under those circumstances?” Jordan writes. “Each of us has to decide for ourselves how much nonsense we can take in life, and from whom we are willing to take it.” In other words, this small, old man didn’t matter. He was not someone to slay. Instead of fanning his racism with outrage, Jordan doused it with pity.
Ah well. A life well-lived.
What else should you read? The final of no fewer than 250 separate election audits has been completed in Michigan. Stand by for news:
Among the more prominent of the reviews was a hand count of every ballot cast for president in Antrim County, which found a net gain of 12 votes for former President Donald Trump’s 3,800-vote victory there, and a hand count of 18,000 randomly selected ballots across the state to ensure tabulated results matched the paper ballot.
The city of Detroit also was able to confirm that the clerk’s office, while it made some clerical errors, properly counted 174,000 valid absentee ballots that corresponded to signed envelopes for registered voters, Benson’s office said.
Auditors were able to bring into balance or explain imbalances in 83% of counting boards, up from 27% at the close of the canvass, Benson said. The total number of ballots out of balance accounted for 17 of the 174,000 absentee ballots counted in Detroit.
Tell your Republican friends, not that it will make a difference.
And hello Wednesday. Alan’s getting a vaccine tomorrow. I hope to follow him one of these days.