It was a hot August day in 1972. Most of the college students in Tuskegee, Ala., hadn't returned from summer break, which made it the perfect time for voter registration, at least in the eyes of the white people who were trying to stifle the black vote. But, luckily for mayoral candidate Johnny Ford, the football team had come back early for training. So Ford loaded up a school bus full of the athletes and drove over to the voting office. Scared by the group, the "white folks just locked the door." But the football players didn't stop there. They initiated a lawsuit that resulted in ordering the board of registrars to open the door, and in walked 150 black students.
Ford won the election by 127 votes.
This was just one of many stories of encouragement that Ford conveyed to the 350 people who attended Saturday night's awards dinner for the National Association of Blacks Within Government 1983 National Training Conference (NABWG). The ceremony at the Washington Hilton, where Ford was the keynote speaker, concluded the NABWG's three-day conference. Three hundred high school students. from all over the country met with about 350 NABWG members on the conference's theme--"Achievements Against the Odds."
The high school students, who had been selected by the 232 black mayors in America, sat with NABWG members. The head table included Ford; Lonis Ballard, president of NABWG; Lois Barksdale, vice president; and Pat Lawson of WRC-TV.
Ford encouraged the students to continue their education, to go out and take what's theirs. He also emphasized the need for black organizations to work together, on the domestic level and internationally. "People may say that's racist, but that's not racist! It's common sense. Jews, Italians, all the ethnic groups believe in supporting their own institutions . . . We do it as a matter of equality and to make sure our people get their fair share."