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Renee Ferguson

TV journalist and investigative reporter Renee Ferguson was born on August 22, 1949 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Eugene and Mary Ferguson. Attending Edwards Elementary School, Ferguson graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1967. At Indiana University, she covered the student unrest at Jackson State and Kent State Universities and worked as a Washington Post student intern during the summer of 1970. Ferguson earned her B.S. degree in journalism in 1971.

Ferguson worked in Indianapolis, Indiana as a writer for the Indianapolis Star newspaper and then as a news reporter for television station WLWI-TV. When she joined Chicago’s WBBM-TV in 1977, she became the first African American woman to work as an investigative reporter in Chicago. In 1980, she worked as a network news correspondent for CBS News in New York City and Atlanta. Ferguson returned to Chicago in 1987, joining the UNIT 5 investigative team at NBC affiliate WMAQ-TV.

Ferguson has reported on many issues including strip searches of women of color at O’Hare Airport by United States Customs officials; sexual harassment at Chicago’s Ford Motor Plant; the deaths of children involved in a clinical drug trial; a high school undercover investigation of drug and alcohol abuse and gun and drug sales held in the property room of the Gary, Indiana police department.

A recipient of seven Chicago Emmy Awards, the DuPont Award, the Gracie Award, the Associated Press Award for Best Investigative Reporting and many other accolades, Ferguson lives with her husband Ken Smikle and their son in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood.

Accession Number

A2005.058

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/3/2005

7/20/2005

Last Name

Ferguson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

Frederick A. Douglass High School

Edwards Elementary School

Indiana University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Renee

Birth City, State, Country

Oklahoma City

HM ID

FER01

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

Sponsor

Ed and Bettiann Gardner

State

Oklahoma

Favorite Quote

Wear The World As A Loose Garment.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

8/22/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chitterlings

Short Description

Television reporter Renee Ferguson (1949 - ) was Chicago's first African American female investigative reporter. She reported on many issues, including the strip searches of women of color at O’Hare Airport and sexual harassment at Chicago’s Ford Motor Plant.

Employment

WLWI TV

WBBM TV

CBS News

WMAQ TV

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156016">Tape: 1 Slating of Renee Ferguson's interview, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156017">Tape: 1 Slating of Renee Ferguson's interview, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156018">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson lists her favorites, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156019">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson lists her favorites, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156020">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson describes her view of French nationalism</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156021">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson lists her favorite phrase</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156022">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson talks about her mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156023">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson talks about taking care of her great-aunt, Hattie Brown</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156024">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson talks about her mother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156025">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson talks about the uncertainty surrounding her father's birth date</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156026">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson talks about her father's family ancestry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156027">Tape: 1 Renee Ferguson talks about her paternal grandfather's lost land in California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156028">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson talks about how her parents met</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156029">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson describes her parents' personalities and her likeness to them</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156030">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson talks about growing up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156031">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson remembers fighting in elementary school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156032">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson describes unpleasant smells in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156033">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson describes her childhood house</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156034">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson talks about her childhood social life and her high school prom night</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156035">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson talks about being a member of the Methodist church</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156036">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson talks about the role of music and television in her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156037">Tape: 2 Renee Ferguson talks about her interest in journalism, ethical journalism and what makes journalism enjoyable</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156038">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson describes newspapers she read as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156039">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson talks about Edwards Elementary School, Moon Junior High School and Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156040">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson talks about Willard Pitts, her mentor in journalism, and working at the Daily Oklahoman</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156041">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson talks about civil rights activity in 1960s Oklahoma City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156042">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson describes deciding to become a journalist</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156043">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson describes deciding to transition into broadcast journalism after college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156044">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson describes her experience as an undergraduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156045">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson describes working for the Daily Herald-Telephone, the Indiana Daily Student and Indiana University's public relations department</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156046">Tape: 3 Renee Ferguson describes her social life as an undergraduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156047">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson describes her interview for an internship with The Washington Post</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156048">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson describes her experience as an intern in the editorial department at The Washington Post</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156049">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson describes working with journalist Robert C. Maynard at The Washington Post</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156050">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson describes the role of conflict in journalism</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156051">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson describes the influence of Washington Post editor Philip Geyelin and journalist Meg Greenfield</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156052">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson describes her experience at Indianapolis News after graduation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156053">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson talks about joining WLWI-TV in Indianapolis, Indiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156054">Tape: 4 Renee Ferguson talks about refusing to straighten her hair at WLWI television</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156055">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson talks about covering the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156056">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson describes the political climate in 1970s Indianapolis, Indiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156057">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson talks about covering the United States Border Patrol</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156058">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson responds to an inquiry about broadcast circulation through WLWI</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156059">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson talks about being hired at WBBM-TV in Chicago, Illinois and going undercover as a high school student</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156060">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson continues to describe going undercover as a high school student</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156061">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson describes undercover journalism</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156062">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson talks about her expose of teacher and HistoryMaker Marva Collins, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156063">Tape: 5 Renee Ferguson talks about her expose of teacher and HistoryMaker Marva Collins, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156064">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson describes the aftermath following her expose of HistoryMaker Marva Collins</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156065">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson talks about political corruption in 1970s Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156066">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson describes leaving WBBM CBS TV Chicago for CBS National news in 1981 and meeting her husband, HistoryMaker Ken Smikle</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156067">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson describes working for CBS National News on CBS Sunday Morning in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156068">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson talks about Mayor Harold Washington's legacy and death in 1987, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156069">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson talks about Mayor Harold Washington's legacy and death in 1987, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156070">Tape: 6 Renee Ferguson talks about Mayor Harold Washington's legacy and death in 1987, pt. 3</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156071">Tape: 7 Second slating of Renee Ferguson's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156072">Tape: 7 Renee Ferguson talks about her frustrations working as a general assignment reporter</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156073">Tape: 7 Renee Ferguson describes fighting to become an investigative reporter at WMAQ-TV, NBC 5 Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156074">Tape: 7 Renee Ferguson describes endorsements she received in support of her promotion from HistoryMakers Carol Mosley Braun and Reverend Jesse Jackson</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156075">Tape: 7 Renee Ferguson talks about her prize-winning investigation of O'Hare International Airport Customs strip-searching black women, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156076">Tape: 7 Renee Ferguson talks about her prize-winning investigation of O'Hare International Airport Customs strip-searching black women, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156077">Tape: 7 Renee Ferguson describes her career in investigative journalism, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156078">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson describes her career in investigative reporting, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156079">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson describes her reporting style and the stories that interested her</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156080">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson talks about misconduct in the Chicago Police Department</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156081">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson talks about drug smuggling procedures</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156082">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson describes her future goals</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156083">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson describes the fiction reading and writing she enjoys</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156084">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson describes her reporting philosophy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156085">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American demographic</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156086">Tape: 8 Renee Ferguson imagines a racism-free future</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156087">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson considers what she may have done differently</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156088">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson talks about her independent research on chondrocalcinosis</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156089">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson talks about having an experimental procedure done to manage her chondrocalcinosis</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156090">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson considers her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156091">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson talks about her family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156092">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson urges young people to consider careers in socially productive journalism</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156093">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson talks about her relationship with the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization and the National Association of Black Journalists</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/156094">Tape: 9 Renee Ferguson describes how she would like to be remembered</a>

DASession

1$2

DATape

4$7

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
Renee Ferguson describes her interview for an internship with The Washington Post
Renee Ferguson talks about her prize-winning investigation of O'Hare International Airport Customs strip-searching black women, pt. 1
Transcript
So I got to tell you about my college [Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana] adventure.$$Right, right.$$I interned at The Washington Post, which was really fun; and Indiana University, being located in Bloomington, Indiana did not get the--our journalism school did not receive the leaflets or any invitation for interns to go to The Washington Post. The Washington Post sent its intern program applications to the seven sister colleges and to the Ivy leagues. I didn't know anything about that. I just knew that it was the paper where [Robert] Bob Maynard wrote. Bob Maynard, as you know, was a great black journalist. He is dead now, but he was an amazing writer, and he wrote with such passion, and he saw things in such a way; and I would just hang on to every word that he wrote in The Washington Post, so I knew I wanted to go there as an intern. And I kept waiting for the internship application to come and it never came; and by the time it did arrive--well, it didn't arrive, I called them. And they sent me one, but by the time they sent it, they had already chosen all their--you know, the deadline had passed, so I said, so "You didn't send one to Indiana [University]," and they said, "We're sorry, we'll send it," and then I sent it in, and I got a call from a man named Philip [L.] Geyelin and Phil Geyelin was the editorial page editor at the [Washington] Post at the time, very famous man, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, he called me and said, "Well, I'm going to be in Chicago [Illinois] to interview our applicants. I'll be at the Newsweek office. Will you come for an interview?" I said, "Of course, I will." And I had no money, and no way to get there, and no bus fare, and no car fare, and nothing to get to Chicago on very short notice, so I took my rent money, and I got a bus, and found my way to the Newsweek building, and I interviewed with Mr. Geyelin and he said at the time, "Well, we really don't have anymore openings." And I said, "Well, why did you have me come here if you weren't going to really consider me?" He said, "Well, that's a good question, isn't it." I said, "Yeah." I said, "I don't think that's fair." I said, "You can have as many openings as you want," and he said, "We can, can't we?" I said, "Absolutely." He said, "Well, I'm going to interview other people." He said, "I'll call you and let you know." And I said, "Well, I hope the phone is on because I spent all my money for my rent and the telephone to come up here." He looked at me and started laughing. He said, "Well, okay." And he goes in his wallet--I've never seen that much money in my life. He pulls out a $100.00 bill and hands it to me. He says, "How are you going to get back?" I said, "Well, I was going to hitch hike." He said, "No." He said, "Here's the money. Take the bus, pay your rent, pay your phone bill. I have kids in college and I understand." He said, "I don't want you out there on the road hitchhiking." He was so nice, and a few days later, I got the call and I got the job, so that summer, I worked on--they created that position 'cause they didn't (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Now, this is what summer?$$It must have been 1970--it must have been 1970, yeah.$$Okay, so this is just after the Kent State [shootings, at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio in May 1970] and all that.$And right after that, I won--I did a story that won the DuPont [Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards], which is like the Pulitzer Prize, so they immediately saw that they had made a good decision, and have been supportive of my efforts ever since.$$Now what was the story that won the duPont prize?$$I did a story on African American women who were strip searched at O'Hare [International Airport, Chicago, Illinois]. I got a call one day from a woman at six in the morning, I happened to be at work, and I got a call from her saying that she had just cleared customs at O'Hare and had been taken into a small room and forced to take her clothes down, and even take her tampon out and show it to the guards, women guards, customs officer, to proof that she was not carrying drugs internally, and when I met her, she was a very tall woman with her hair in dreadlocks and she a woman who traveled quite a bit to work with children of war. She was very extraordinary and she came back to this greeting and to this profiling, is what it really was. It was really racial and gender profiling because the thinking was that if you were a woman and black, or of color, traveling alone, you must have been working as a mule for some drug dealers and have heroin packets inside your body.$$There was also, I guess, a cultural aspect of it too, the dreadlocks maybe stereotyped her (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Dreadlocks stereotyped her--what was interesting is when she told me this, I said, "Well, you must have some kind of criminal history. You must have something--they must have probable cause to search you." Well later, I found out they have to have probable cause to search your house or to search your garage. They do not have to have probable cause to search your body at the border. The standard is much lower, and it's a standard called reasonable suspicion. So they only have to have reasonable suspicion. Later, as I investigated, I found out that reasonable suspicion can be anything essentially, and in her case, they said [U.S.] Customs [and Border Protection] that day after I interviewed her--her name is Denise Pullian--after I interviewed Denise, Customs said to me, "Oh, yes, we did that. We can do that, and we did that because she was wearing loose clothing; and we thought because she was wearing loose-fitting clothing that that gave us reasonable suspicion that she might have drugs under there." So then we put that story on the air that night, and the next day, I got a deluge of calls from people who said, crying over the phone, that this had happened to them. So I got them all together in an hotel room, and that's what we learned that they were all African American women.$$Not a single person from another--(simultaneous)-$$Not a single white woman. A room with fifty women in it who had been strip-searched and humiliated. They were all innocent. None of them were carrying drugs, none of them had any criminal history--most of them didn't even have a traffic ticket. We checked them out--were pulled over and were subjected to this tremendous humiliation. Now, these days, of course, you might as well as go--after September 11 [2001], you might as well go to the airport naked. You know, everyone gets patted down or subjected to a secondary search of some type at some point, take your shoes off and all of that, but this was very intrusive. What we were talking about here and what these women described were actually body cavity searches. Some of them were taken to hospitals and put in stirrups, or given laxatives to see if, and held for seventy-two hours to see if they would pass drugs. One woman was even pregnant, one woman was a Fulbright scholar coming back from Africa. One woman was an actress who had come from Germany, where she had a very brilliant commercial career. There were teachers, there were politicians, there were some women who called me. There was a judge. There were people who were high up in political administrations here. Many people called me who did not want to go public, but the women who were courageous enough to go public did so, and we just kept doing their stories.