Evelyn Spriggs Ford held center stage on Tuesday, Nov. 30 as the newest member of an elite, highly-cherished and much-beloved cadre of native Washingtonians who can boast of having experienced a century of life and can point to scores of unforgettable memories.
And on her 100th birthday, Ford received her flowers and gifts and enjoyed a serenade of songs and prayers during a festive luncheon at Model Cities Wellness Center in Northeast that brought more than 50 well-wishers, including several of her best senior girlfriends, to the party.
The Ward 5 facility, which served as the venue for Mrs. Ford’s much-deserved celebration and has been a popular gathering place for the elderly in the neighborhood, stands just a stone’s throw away from the home in which she and her family have lived and loved for nearly 70 years.
She said she remembers the day she and her husband of 43 years, George H. Ford (who died in 1985), along with their five daughters and extended family, first moved into the rambling, corner house and how quickly the community and life for Blacks in the District began to change.
“I was born in D.C. at home, not in a hospital, the last of nine children, when the city was still segregated – that was 1921 – six sisters and two brothers,” she said. “I attended Cardoza High School and married George Henry Ford in 1942. We were blessed with five daughters and often had other members of the family living with us – in-laws, siblings, nieces and nephews – you name it. That’s the way Blacks supported one another in those days.”
As the Ford family continued to grow, they moved to U Street in Northwest in 1943 and later, in 1953, to Newton in Northeast – their final destination which remains the family’s homestead.
“We were only the third Blacks on the block but within a year almost all of the whites had moved out,” she said. “But when we first arrived, our girls couldn’t do things like go trick-or-treating – the white families wouldn’t allow it. And it wasn’t safe either. So, we had our own parties in the basement which soon became a tradition as the neighborhood became more Black.”
Ford said families were larger in those days and hers would be no exception. In fact, one of their neighbors, an Italian family, had eight children who “took up the entire row at church.”
“Yes, church was a fixture in our lives and a place I still love and cherish,” she said, referring to Holy Redeemer Church in the early days and later, St. Francis De Sales Church where she’s been a faithful member more than 60 years.
Ford said she’s always held respect, courtesy and good morals as essential values in her life and remembers taking trips and enjoying all kinds of music as much as possible, even after retiring from a 40-year career in the government including service both at the Pentagon and the Civil Aeronautics Board.
She recalls how she first began working for the U.S. government.
“I was a great typist and a white woman for whom I was working had a daughter who wanted to take the typing test for a government position,” she said. “Because I had won typing awards in high school, I decided to take the test, too. I made the cut. My employer’s daughter did not. It was something she just couldn’t believe. But I was ready to move on – I wanted to do more with my life.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge the Ford family would face, came in 1954 and the year after, when Brown v. Board of Education made segregation in public schools illegal. With five daughters in different grades, the youngest in kindergarten, Mrs. Ford and her husband had to help their children adjust to being in schools where only a handful of other Blacks counted among the student body.
“We tried to keep our girls close to us and we got involved right away,” she said. “Sometimes my husband signed their report cards and went to parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes I signed the cards and met their teachers. It was a new day and we had to help the girls deal with students who disliked them because of their skin color as well as some teachers and administrators. But we stood our ground and allowed the Lord to fight our battles – when we couldn’t handle things ourselves.”
On any given day, Mrs. Ford can be found reading, listening to music and enjoying a hearty meal, served by her daughters who rotate their days to cook and do other tasks. One daughter lives with her. But their love for their mother and the teamwork they exemplify, confirms the bond which exists between the matriarch, her daughters – not to mention the grandchildren who have since joined the fold.
During Mrs. Ford’s first decade of life, Blacks would celebrate a burgeoning uptick in the arts and culture known as the Harlem Renaissance, would mourn the senseless deaths of an entire community during the Tulsa Race Riot and would face and somehow overcome the crash of the Stock Market.
But like generations before her, Evelyn Spriggs Ford and those she loved, would stand together in faith, determined to make a way out of no way.
What a testimony! Happy Birthday, Mrs. Ford.
I’ll see you before Christmas for some eggnog, fried chicken and fresh vegetables while listening to some old school jazz – all of your favorites.