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Ford, Harold, Jr.(1970–) - Congressman, Collegiate and Law School Years, Enters Race for House of Representatives

african american tennessee political

In 1996, Congressman Harold Eugene Ford Jr., at the age of twenty-six, became the first African American to succeed a parent in the United States Congress and the second youngest member in the annals of that institution’s history. The keynote speaker at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, Ford was one of the party’s candidates seeking the Senate seat of retiring majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Harold Eugene Ford Jr. was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 11, 1970, to Harold E. Sr. and Dorothy Bowles Ford. The oldest of five children (brothers Jake, Isaac, and Andrew, and sister Ava), he spent the first nine years of his life in the environs of his native city, where he attended the public schools.

The Fords were members of one of Memphis’ most well-established African American families in both business and politics. Grandfather Newton Jackson Ford, the family patriarch, was a well-known funeral home director of the N. J. Ford and Sons Funeral Home, which was founded by his father. Six months after starting the business, the elder Ford died and his son, Newton, then only seventeen, took over the business, which developed into one of the city’s most prominent funeral homes. The family’s political influence grew from their funeral business.

In addition to his father, Harold Ford Sr., who began his political career as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly (1970–75), Ford’s uncles were also politically active and held local and state legislative positions. According to the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report , when his father was sworn in as the first African American congressman from Tennessee in January 1975, Ford asserted, “This is what I want to do when I grow up.” After his father won two successive congressional elections, Congressman Ford moved his family to Washington, D.C. in 1979. The Fords enrolled their son in St. Albans School, an Episcopal school for boys, where many of D.C.’s power brokers sent their sons. As a child, the younger Ford often accompanied his father to meetings of the Congressional Black Caucus. He grew up learning the ways of the Washington power structure. In 1988, he graduated from St. Albans. Afterward, he entered the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Collegiate and Law School Years

Upon entering the University of Pennsylvania, Ford majored in history and took an active role in campus activities. Coming from one of Tennessee’s most politically active African American families and imbued with some of the values that emanated from the civil rights struggle for equality and justice, he became an active campus leader and journalist. Because he discerned that the views of minority students on campus were not being heard and that they had no voice, he founded The Vision , an African American student newspaper. Completing his undergraduate requirements, Ford graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in 1992.

After graduation, Ford returned to Tennessee and coordinated his father’s tenth reelection campaign for the United States House of Representatives. After that, Ford Jr. served on the 1992 Clinton/Gore transition team as a special assistant and as an aid to the Senate Budget Committee under Tennessee senator James Sasser. The following year he worked as a special assistant to the Economic Development Administration under Ron Brown, the United States secretary of commerce. Ford later entered the University of Michigan School of Law. In 1994, taking time out from law school, he again coordinated his father’s reelection campaign. Harold E. Ford Sr. won reelection and represented the people of Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District for two more years. The same year that the elder Ford announced that he would not seek a twelfth term in office, Harold Ford Jr. completed the requirements for his law degree and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1996.

Enters Race for House of Representatives

When Harold E. Ford Sr. announced in 1996 that he would not seek reelection to the U.S. Congress, he looked to his son for a successor. As asserted in Jet , “I want to go out on top,” said Ford Sr. “I think the public polls show that I’m stronger than ever in my career … I went with a new vision in 1974, and I think it’s time for a new vision and a new generation.” Remaining true to his political roots, Ford Jr. entered the race for his father’s seat. With name recognition, Ford’s campaign paraphernalia merely said “Jr.” Notwithstanding name recognition and the political entrenchment of the Ford family within the Memphis community, “Jr.,” a Democrat, faced political opposition from Memphis mayor Willie W. Herenton, the city’s first African American mayor and a political rival of the Ford family. Herenton, who assumed the mayoral position in 1992, looked for politicians to run against the younger Ford. During the Democratic primary, he faced two opponents: state representative Rufus Jones, an African American, and state senator Steve Cohen, a white liberal candidate, who hoped that Ford and Jones would split the African American vote.

Although Ford Jr. possessed name recognition and was connected to the powerful Ford political machine, he did not take that for granted. Fully cognizant that name recognition and family connection was not enough to garner the votes needed to win the election, he solicited votes throughout the Ninth District in an effort to earn the confidence of the people he would represent. Ever aware of the exploding technology and expanding systems of communication, Ford addressed issues of economic and community development, Internet access in the classrooms of his district, education, Head Start, environmental issues, juvenile crime, and affirmative action.

When the August primary votes were counted, “Jr.” soundly defeated both of his opponents with approximately 60 percent of the vote. After winning the Democratic nomination, Ford faced his Republican opponent, Rod DeBerry, an African American, in the general election. Upon winning the congressional race, Ford Jr., at age twenty-six, became the first African American to succeed a parent in Congress and the second youngest (succeeding his father, who was the first) member in the annals of that legislative body’s history. Ford was among a new generation of political leaders who wanted to substitute or change the partisan affairs of state of the past with fresh ideas and a practical line of attack to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Elected to the United States Congress

Harold E. Ford Jr. was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 7, 1997, and became a member of the 105th Congress. Later that same day, he participated in a ceremonial swearing in of the Congressional Black Congress, where U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley presided. After being sworn in, Congressman Ford was elected vice president of the 105th Congress’s Freshman Class. He was appointed to serve as a member of the House Committee on Education and Workforce and the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

Ford was reelected in 1998 by almost 60 points; in the 2000 election, he ran unopposed. The same year, Ford was the keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention, which supported then-Vice President Albert Gore Jr. for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Ford served on the Committee on Financial Services; the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises, Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit; the Budget Committee; the Congressional Black Caucus; the Blue Dog Coalition On-Line; Community Solutions and Initiative Caucus; and as co-chair of the Congressional Savings and Ownership Caucus. He was also a member of the Transformation Advisory Group (TAG). A fifth-term congressman, Ford was among the more assertive young politicians to come from a growing list of black political families.

Chronology

1970

Born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 11

1979

Moves with family to Washington, D. C.

1988

Graduates from St. Albans School for Boys in Washington, D.C.

1992

Earns B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; serves as a staff aide to the United States Senate Committee on the Budget; serves as special assistant to the 1992 Clinton/Gore Transition Team; coordinates father’s re-election campaign

1993

Becomes special assistant to the United States Department of Commerce under the leadership of the late Ron Brown

1996

Earns J. D. from the University of Michigan Law School; wins Democratic nomination to succeed his father as U. S. Representative for the Ninth Tennessee Congressional District

2000

Becomes keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention; announces candidacy for House Minority Whip

2005

Announces intentions to run for the Senate seat occupied by Senate Majority Leader William H. “Bill” Frist

Seeks to Be Elected to the Senate

In April 2005, Ford announced his intentions to run for the Senate seat occupied by Senate Majority Leader William H. “Bill” Frist. One of five major candidates   seeking to replace Senator Frist, who was not seeking reelection, Ford worked intensely to gain positive name recognition in those parts of Tennessee, especially East Tennessee (which is predominately Republican), where he is not well known.

Ford was expected to enter the 2006 August Democratic primary and the November general election; like his father who made history by becoming the first African American elected to Congress from Tennessee, Ford would be the first African American elected to the United States Senate from one of the former Confederate states since the Reconstruction era.

Ford, Harold, Sr.(1945–) - Congressman, Family Background, Elected to Political Office, Chronology, Political Career Tarnished, Memberships and Awards [next] [back] Ford, Glenn

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