TV Journalist Sam Ford Reflects – 35 Years on Capitol Hill

Sam Ford, Journalist and Capitol Hill Resident

TV Journalist Sam Ford Reflects – 35 Years on Capitol Hill

by Larry Janezich

Journalist Sam Ford, Bureau Chief for local television station ABC7 and NewsChannel 8, has lived on Capitol Hill for 35 years.  Capitol Hill Corner asked him to talk about it.

Ford says, “In 1982, I was looking for a place to live.  I got on my bike and rode around and saw the place where I live now near 12th and C Streets (Southeast). I fell in love with it. There was a For Sale sign in front, so I got off my bike and went up to the door and told them I was interested. The house was owned by David Taylor, who was president of Perpetual Savings.  I was 27 or 28 and rode up on a bicycle.  I don’t think they took me seriously, but I ended up buying it.”  He says there was an odd coincidence connected with the purchase:  “My first significant story in Washington was the John Hinckley trial in 1982.  One of Hinckley’s lawyers was Gregory Craig.  When I went to close on the house a few weeks later, the lawyer was Gregory Craig.  He was a friend of the owners of the house.”

Of his early days on Capitol Hill Ford says, “We were much more involved in the community when the kids were small.  Now they’re grown-up.  Now we just live here – we don’t know people the way we used to.  We go to Eastern Market sometimes – I know the old timers there.”

“Back then, I knew all the neighbors who lived up and down the street – there were a number of characters.  Mark used to own the flower shop on 7th Street (now Pitango) near Eastern Market.  There was a teacher across the street who died of AIDS and a woman who was a cook who worked at the United States Senate – she fixed Thanksgiving dinner for us once, and it was heavenly.  There was Mr. Moody, who ran sort of a taxi service for the neighborhood.”

“Walter was from Cleveland, and owned a good part of the block.  He had a Chihuahua that he called ‘Little Boy’.   There was a woman named Ann, who was priced out of her apartment.  Walter took one of his places and fixed it up.  He said, ‘Pay me what you were paying before and you can stay here.” There was Warren and his wife Helen who would occasionally lock themselves out.  They would call my son who would crawl through their dog door to open the house.’”

“Lois and Barbara were two sisters who lived on the block.  Lois got miffed over something and stopped paying her mortgage and the mortgage company took her house.  Barbara was a guard in the DC Jail.  When they put her sister out, I went out to shoot some video and told Barbara if it would be of any use, I’d give it to her.  Apparently, when marshals evict somebody they get people off the street to empty the house.  Some of them were harassing me and told me to stop shooting.  One of them said something to Barbara and she came out and said, ‘If you don’t know who you’re f…ing  talking to, ask some goddam body.  And let him take pictures.’  She totally shut them up.”

“It was a very interesting neighborhood.  I was here during the horrible days in the 1980s – it was very violent.  People were killed within blocks of my house – we heard gunfire from Kentucky Courts.  Officer Jason White (MPD) was killed on 14th Street across from Kentucky Courts.”

“Velma Jane Jones was a woman who lived in Kentucky Courts. She had two grandchildren  – twins.  Last year, I’m walking by Watkins Field where there was a Pop Warner Football game.  I started talking to one of the parents, and then I recognized him.  He was one of the twins.  I told him that I thought by now he would be dead or in jail.  Actually, both twins work for DC Department of Public Works; they’ve both been married for years, and have kids.  It makes me say, ‘Folks, it ain’t all bad news.  There’s some good.’  Grandma is still around, and lives in Maryland.”

Ford says, “Jim Myers (East Hill activist, see CHC post here: http://bit.ly/2qh5CKL) always gave me credit for shutting down Kentucky Courts.  There was so much bird guano in the attic it caused the ceilings in the upper units to collapse.”  The Health Department got involved because of the television report Ford did.  Ford says, “They came in with bodysuits to clean it up and then said they couldn’t remediate it, and shut it down.”

Sam Ford was born in Coffeyville, Kansas.  He found his way to DC through reporting jobs, first in Minnesota, then for CBS News in New York and Atlanta before landing in DC 1982.  Ford is married to freelance reporter and media manager Gloria Murry; they have a son, Murry Ford, and a daughter, Gina Ford.  He met his wife on an airplane on the way to a story when they were both working in Atlanta.  “There was a camera man from Boston who was always trying to line me up.  He came to me rubbing his hands together and said:  ‘Have I got a woman for you.’  We’re having our 36th anniversary this year.”

“When I grew up Coffeyville was a town of 17,000 – now it’s down to 10,000.  The main industry was the COOP Oil Refinery.  I grew up in the shadow of the COOP.  On the north side of the houses exposed to the wind from the refinery, the paint was eaten away.”

“In Kansas the schools were segregated but only if it was economical.  If a town was 15,000 or less there was no segregation.  Above 15,000, it was segregated.  After Brown vs. the Board of Education (of Topeka) required desegregation, Coffeyville was still segregated on a neighborhood level.  There were no white kids in school on the north side of town where I lived.”

“The Black men in Coffeyville worked in the (Sherman-Williams zinc-oxide) smelter.  It provided a steady income. Coffeyville must’ve been 20% Black.  We had a vibrant Black community there with many Black-owned small businesses and Coffeyville had a number of Black policemen.”

“Mama was born in Coffeyville – Daddy moved there from Oklahoma.  My father was a member of the Cherokee tribe – the slaves held by the Cherokees became citizens of the Cherokee Nation after the Civil War.  My heritage is descended from slaves of the Cherokee Indians.”  Ford says he’s a party to a suit in DC federal against members of the Cherokee Nation who are trying to exclude the Blacks – the Cherokee Freedmen controversy.  He says, “Most plaintiffs are in Oklahoma. I’m the only plaintiff in DC.”

Ford has done several news reports on Black History for WJLA, including a three part series titled:  Black Slaves, Red Masters and a report on Ford’s trip to Nigeria West Africa, in search of his own DNA roots.  They can be seen on YouTube, using the search word samuford.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “TV Journalist Sam Ford Reflects – 35 Years on Capitol Hill

  1. Maggie Hall

    What an interesting/worthwhile piece. Now feel as though I have a personal connection to Sam Ford – whom I’ve watched and listened to for years, while knowing zero about him.

  2. Interesting, especially the characters, the old timers. Ford, of course, is now an old timer. I have similar memories of people who lived around 10th & North Carolina Ave. SE in the mid-1970s onward. Our next-door-neighbor, Felix Sparks,was born around the corner in the 1890s. He recalled horse-drawn wagons delivering coal door-to-door. They dumped it on the sidewalk, and you hauled it in a bucket to a coal shed in your patio, Our home still had a coal shed in the patio, bucket and all, when we moved in in 1976, tho the house had long been converted to gas heat. (The gas light tubes in the house were still hooked up, but the fixtures were long gone,) Somewhere over near 12 & D SE there was then still a depot, probably now long gone, that sold coal and kerosene. Sparks spent his career at the Navy Yard. He said during shift changes, the streets were clogged with bicycles. One day, Sparks and I tried to figure out if bread, a nickel a loaf in his youth, was cheaper then or now. Sparks was surprised to learn it’s cheaper today, today being the 1980s.

    The one thing I do not recall from the 1970s and 1980s was this end of Capitol Hill — that is, between Lincoln Park & Eastern Market — being “very violent.” Maybe it was, but I don’t recall it. Anyone have any specific numbers? Dan

    • Two sites with DC crime info, one going back to 1960:
      http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/dccrime.htm
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Washington,_D.C.#cite_note-crimeglance-2

      I suspect one reason my recollections about crimes are unclear, apart from a dodgy memory, is that near Capitol Hill, that is, west of Lincoln Park & the Eastern Market, was then and still is, it’s own neighborhood, and what happened in other areas was not as memorable. (File under human nature) The statistics on the two sites show crime rising in the late 1960s and peaking in the late 1990s. Lots of exceptions, but that’s basically it. The murder rate started rising in 1964 (hmm, coinciding with my first tour in Washington), jumped again in 1988, and then began seriously declining in the late 1990s, bottoming out in 2012, and rising again (numbers through 2015) since then. Dan

  3. Chris Brewer

    Great story!!

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