Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just who is Bishop Ford?

The person who has his name on the expressway that used to be known as the Calumet Expressway (I personally still call it that). Well the Chicago Tribune answers that question...
Mention the name Bishop Ford to most Chicagoans, and they'll think of I-94 traffic reports rather than the influential South Side clergyman who lent the freeway his name.

But starting this weekend, supporters of Louis Henry Ford hope to reclaim the memory of the man with a new exhibit at the DuSable Museum of African-American History, depicting the remarkable story of one of the city and nation's great Pentecostal leaders.

Ford began as a street preacher and became a religious and political powerhouse, a man who had the ear of mayors and presidents. Eventually, he rose to become the international leader of the Church of God in Christ, the world's largest African-American Pentecostal denomination with more than 6 million members in 59 countries.

Despite those impressive achievements, he still remains unknown to many, including some of those who travel the roadway that bears his name.

"I felt the man was never really celebrated for the many things that he did," said Bishop Ocie Booker, founder of the Bishop Louis Henry Ford Legacy Committee. "Certainly the expressway was a tribute to him, but we have not really set forth many of the things that he did to show that he deserved even more to be known."

The exhibit displays photographs that illustrate the deep mark Bishop Ford left on the city and beyond: preaching the sermon at Emmett Till's funeral, becoming one of the first black preachers broadcast on Chicago radio, promoting the early days of gospel music, restoring and maintaining the historic Clarke House, and advocating for jobs, education and housing for the city's less-fortunate.

Ford arrived in Chicago in 1933 and spent more than 60 years here as a minister, rising to the highest leadership position of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination. He also became one of Chicago's most well-connected clergymen by the time of his death in 1995.

Ford's deep civic and political involvement was unusual for a Pentecostal minister in the '30s and '40s, said David Daniels, professor of church history at the McCormick Theological Seminary. But it set a template for clergymen on Chicago's South Side working with the city government, rather than protesting against it.

"[Ford] was a clergy person who was inside, yet one who continued to speak on issues," Daniels said.

Describing Ford as "a networker par excellence," Daniels said that the bishop cultivated partnerships and friendships with local political powers—including Mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley and Mayor Harold Washington—and national figures, such as former President Bill Clinton.

The exhibit contains a multitude of photographs illustrating those relationships, with pictures of Bishop Ford posing alongside everyone from Joe Louis to Nelson Mandela.

"There were no African-Americans of note that we weren't exposed to as children," said Ford's daughter Janet Hill, who is helping organizers assemble the exhibit.

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