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Lula Ford

Illinois Commerce Commissioner Lula Mae Ford was born on March 11, 1944 to a family of nine in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Ford’s father was a World War II veteran that worked most of his life in the Pine Bluff Arsenal, and her mother was a homemaker who also instilled in Ford, as a child, the importance of education. After attending Coleman High School in Pine Bluff, Ford went on to graduate from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1965. She then relocated to Chicago, Illinois where she pursued her M.A. degree in urban studies at Northeastern University and later earned her M.A. degree in science, career education and vocational guidance from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

In 1965, Ford began her teaching career at Horner Elementary School. She served in that capacity until 1975 when she became a counselor for at-risk students. Then in 1976, Ford was hired as the mathematics coordinator at McCorkle Elementary School. She resigned from that position in 1979 to become a liaison for parents and the principal selection committee as the ESEA Reading Teacher and Coordinator. Later in 1984, while serving as a math teacher for John Hope Academy, Ford became the coordinator for the Effective Schools Campaign, organizing GED programs and the school’s black history programs. Ford went on to become the principal for Beethoven Elementary School and was awarded the principal of excellence award for her performance in 1992, 1993 and 1994. She also provided administrative leadership when she fulfilled the position of assistant superintendent of Chicago Public Schools in 1994. Afterwards, from 1995 until 1996, Ford served as the chief instruction officer, advising teachers and faculty on the best teaching practices.

Ford has received many awards and recognitions for her achievements in the field of education including: the Walter H. Dyett Middle School Women in History Award, the Kathy Osterman Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Arkansas, Pine Bluff and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Northeastern Illinois University. Ford was hired as the assistant director of central management services for the State of Illinois from 1999 until 2003. In 2003, Ford was appointed to the Illinois Commerce Commission and was reappointed to the same office in 2008.

Ford is an active member of many civic organizations including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Lakeshore Chapter (IL) of The Links, Incorporated, and the board of the Trinity Higher Education Corporation.

Ford lives in Illinois and is the proud mother of one adult daughter, Charisse Ford.

Ford was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 21, 2008.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name



Coleman High School

Coleman Elementary School

New Town School

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Pine Bluff



Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Favorite Quote

Help Me, Jesus.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food


Short Description

Education executive, state government appointee, and elementary school principal Lula Ford (1944 - ) held teaching, administrative and counseling positions at several of the Chicago Public Schools before becoming the district's assistant superintendent. She also served on the Illinois Commerce Commission.


Henry Horner School

Helen J. McCorkle School

John Hope Community Academy

Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School

Chicago Public Schools

Illinois Department of Central Management Services

Illinois Commerce Commission

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lula Ford's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lula Ford lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lula Ford describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lula Ford talks about her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lula Ford describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lula Ford talks about her father's experiences in the U.S. Army

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lula Ford describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lula Ford recalls her neighborhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lula Ford remembers her early religious experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lula Ford describes her elementary school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lula Ford recalls her extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lula Ford remembers the civil rights activities in Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lula Ford recalls the discipline of Principal C.P. Coleman

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lula Ford remembers the African American community in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lula Ford remembers the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lula Ford talks about her interests at the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Lula Ford recalls her civil rights activities in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lula Ford describes the black business district in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lula Ford remembers moving to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lula Ford describes the start of her teaching career

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lula Ford recalls her first impressions of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lula Ford remembers the influential figures in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lula Ford recalls teaching at the John Hope Academy in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lula Ford talks about the desegregation of the Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Lula Ford describes her graduate studies

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Lula Ford recalls her transition to educational administrative positions

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lula Ford talks about Harold Washington's mayoral campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lula Ford describes her work at the Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lula Ford recalls her accomplishments as the principal of Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lula Ford describes her administrative roles in the Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lula Ford talks about the underperformance of the Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lula Ford describes her assistant directorship of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lula Ford talks about her experiences as an Illinois Commerce Commissioner

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Lula Ford describes her organizational memberships

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lula Ford talks about the Citizens Utility Board and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lula Ford describes her social and political volunteer work

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lula Ford describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lula Ford reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lula Ford describes her family and how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lula Ford narrates her photographs







Lula Ford describes the black business district in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Lula Ford recalls her accomplishments as the principal of Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois
Okay, now before we leave Pine Bluff [Arkansas], tell us something about 3rd Street [sic. Avenue]? Third Street was a, I would call a, the black metropolis of downtown Main Street. You had all kinds of black businesses, the beauty colleges were there. Wiley Branton taxis [Branton's 98, Pine Bluff, Arkansas], their family owned the taxicab, black taxicab company.$$Wiley Branton [Wiley A. Branton, Sr.]?$$His family the Brantons owned the taxi cab company. Then there was a hotel there, exclusively for blacks. And everybody who would leave out of, if you wanted to go eat, where you could sit you would go to 3rd Street. You could find everything barber shops, beauty shops, every. And, and certainly juke joints, all that would be on 3rd Street. Downtown was Main Street, you know, where you have the stores, Kresge [S.S. Kresge Company] and Woolworths [F.W. Woolworth Company] all those kinds of things would be on the Main Street. And I think that was probably 5th [Avenue] or 6th Avenue but 3rd Street was where most blacks would come up from the rural areas and would be able to get food and just have a good time.$$Okay, so a lot of pe- people from the smaller towns would come, come into (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Small towns came to Pine Bluff.$$Would they come in on the weekends and something?$$They'd come in on a Saturday.$$Okay. Was there a lot of live music in those days?$$Yeah, you, I met, when I was in college [Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College; University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, Arkansas], that's the first time I saw Ike and Tina Turner Revue and Bobby Bland. We had what was known as the Rec- Townsend Recreational Center [sic. Townsend Park Recreation Center, Pine Bluff, Arkansas]. And that's where you would have the live acts. Bobby "Blue" Bland's band would come in. As I said Ike and Tina Turner Revue, that's where I first saw them.$$Okay, was it unusual for, for the big named acts to come through?$$No, not for Pine Bluff (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay.$After I, I, I added bicycles for perfect attendance all year, I got a--bought I don't know how many bicycles my first year. And iss- gave them out for perfect attendance. So, it improved my attendance but, because when, if you have five children in the family and monitor them and I say why is this child absent, they say, "He has chickenpox." I knew then that if he, he has five brothers and sisters next week they are gonna be out. So, I, then I told the board [Chicago Board of Education] I said, "You all got to give me a waiver, so I can get some perfect attendance here, because my children, there's an epic- chickenpox epidemic. Any time you have this close of quarters and you have this many children in a family you're gonna have that." So, I've had indicators of success always my first year. But, then I could see my children going out of a lower quarter, quartile. But, when I look back and saw that these children are getting ready to go to gym and taking out time away from task onto me. I must I need to, the second year I said I need to extend my school day. So, I brought my teachers in and I said, "I can pay you an hourly rate but I need you one hour after school. How many people," only wanted the names of the people who cannot stay. Only three people could not stay. That's because they were in school. I extended my school day from--to 3:30. And they could only teach reading, extend my reading. And that's when my scores began to improve. And that's the model that Paul Vallas took when he took over the Chicago Public Schools. He took the model that I had created at Beethoven [Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois] and that was extended day reading (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Really okay?$$If you know your children are not getting enough time on task and I know that my parents were not going to be able to do some of the kinds of things that I needed them to do, then I needed my children there longer. I also, brought another gym teacher. And then Compton [HistoryMaker James W. Compton] was the president of the school at that time and I did get the gym. That was one of my goals. The gym did come the year I left. And they named it after me the Ford Arena [ph.]. It was built but I was--$$Where, where is it?$$It's at the, it's in the school.$$At Beethoven?$$Beethoven yeah.$$Okay.$$Built it on the front side of the school.$$They call it the Ford Arena?$$Uh-huh.$$Okay.$$Oprah [Oprah Winfrey] adopted the school, when I was there. I did a grant with Stedman [Stedman Graham], I have a picture of that one over there. She adopted the school. And she would take my top reading scorers from kindergarten through eight out for lunch. She had, she did that two years and then she visited the school. So, we had a lot of support.$$Was it easy to get a hold of Oprah?$$I, I met her through Edmund, I mean Stedman.$$Okay.$$Uh-huh.$$Okay.$$But, you know, how that was, we did a grant together and then she got a lot, he got a lot of play out of that. And then she, the children went crazy, she would send limousines for them, of course they were excited about that. But, it was an interesting time to be in schools. But, I think I gained most of my weight being a principal. 'Cause you would be so tired at the evenings that you would go home and Gladys [Gladys Luncheonette, Chicago, Illinois] was in the area so I would get a dinner go home and go to bed. My daughter [Charisse Ford] was away in college and I had no husband at the time, so. But, it was very rewarding.$$Okay. Now, so you won, you won three awards during that period of time, you said. And Paul Vallas took your model. I mean did he ever officially acknowledge that was the model, he got?$$Yeah.$$Okay, all right.$$And the mayor came to our school.$$Okay.$$President Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] visited my school in 1994.$$Okay.$$Mrs. Edgar [Brenda Edgar], Jim Edgar's wife came out and read to my kindergarten children. I have pictures of that also over there. But, because and, and six legislators from the state came to see how I was spending my state Chapter I [Elementary and Secondary Education Act Chapter I] money. And that was the way I was spending it to make sure that my children got time on task.