Summary of an oral history by P. Davis; 1996
Summary of an Interview with Reverend John Ward Jr.
I interviewed Rev. John Ward, Jr. at his home on April 1, 1991. Though his physical health is basically good, at age 104 his memory is spotty. He can only recall fragments from interesting episodes in his life. This summary is therefore limited by the bounds of his memory. I was unable to fill in gaps from external sources. He often attempted to divert attention away from his memory deficits by shifting the focus and asking questions about myself. In spite of his memory problems, I found him to be a spirited and interesting person.
Rev. John Ward, Jr. was bom in Eufaula, Alabama on February 11, 1887. His three sisters are all deceased; of his two brothers, one is alive and resides across the street from him here in Tucson. Rev. Ward lives alone. His adopted son comes over every so often to take him shopping and to church. He suffers from tuberculosis that carries him to the Veterans' Hospital enough for the "head doctor" to be quite fond of him. He also wears glasses, particularly for reading. His old age has brought a hearing loss that causes him to wear a hearing aid in each ear.
Growing up in Alabama, Rev. Ward had a difference of opinion with his father which caused him to run away from home at the age of 15. He ended up in Georgia where he worked in a saw mill. As a child he also spent time in Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan, as well as Alabama. His father didn't approve of his going to college, but he went anyway.
Rev. Ward furthered his education in Alabama at Tuskegee Institute. He arrived at Tuskegee with no money in his pocket. So he found himself a job in order to pay for his schooling. One job he had while attending Tuskegee was working for Booker T. Washington, the president and founder of the school.
Rev. Ward's duties were to drive a bus to a farm and pick up the food for the other students, then bring it back to school. Also, part of his job required him to do carpentry, auto work, or anything else they wanted him to do. Booker T. Washington saw the pride that Rev. Ward took in his work which is why he offered him a job in the first place. Mr. Washington saw how well Rev. Ward took care of the horses in the barn. Mr. Washington had four carriage horses, one belonging to his wife. Rev. Ward would drive the president to the bank which was eight miles away in the carriage. Rev. Ward was the first to drive Mr. Washington's first car which was given to him by Julius Rosenwald. There were only two people who could drive an automobile at Tuskegee: Rev. Ward and his roommate. So they became chauffeurs. The first automobile was a Packard, followed by a white truck used for hauling potatoes. The next car, a Model T, was used as a taxi and they charged fifty cents a ride. Rev. Ward left Tuskegee with $500 saved.
Before leaving Tuskegee Rev. Ward had a bad experience in taking law courses. He couldn't grasp the principles of law, thus causing frustration. These difficulties caused him to dislike the courses in law.
When leaving Tuskegee Institute, he went to Knoxville College in Kentucky where he took an interest in the ministry. Rev. Ward also spent two years in the army where he was a sergeant during World War I stationed in France. After leaving the army, he went to work at Fraternal Savings Bank which was run by his uncle. His uncle had stock in the bank. At the bank Rev. Ward worked as a teller. The next job Rev. Ward had was in Colorado Springs as a desk clerk at a hotel for a couple of years.
His increasing poor health brought him to Tucson in 1920 to stay at the government hospital which was "nothing like hospitals of today." Rev. Ward recalled that when he came to Tucson, "There were no hospitals in Tucson. There were homes that contained cots in which patients stayed, and a doctor would see how the patients were doing every so often." When well enough to leave the hospital, Rev. Ward opened a car washing business. He married Catherine in Phoenix. The couple were married for 54 years until his wife passed away in a nursing home. He was happily married for those 54 years and stated, "In all the years I was married my wife and I never had one argument."
Rev. Ward went to Prince Chapel A.M.E. Church where he became pastor. Then he and his wife borrowed a trailer and built a church up from the ground.
Rev. Ward and his wife never had any children, although they adopted (not legally) two children and raised them as their own.
Rev. Ward was greatly influenced by some people he met at Tuskegee. Booker T. Washington was a big influence on him. George Washington Carver, the scientist, whom Rev. Ward also knew personally, also influenced him. Rev. Ward said, "George could took at a feather and tell you what chicken it came from."
In Tucson Rev. Ward founded the Masonic organization. His membership is symbolized by a ring he still wears. He also founded another organization in Tucson, the Elks, which he doesn't participate in too often.
Rev. Ward did not run into problems of segregation in his life. He never had problems at any time at the places he worked. Rev. Ward stated he would alert himself ahead of time to avoid confrontation. He enjoyed life with his wife whom he refers to as "momma" a great deal. He also misses his wife dearly. In my opinion he is a very knowledgeable person who has seen a variety of things in life. I think he has a fulfilling life. When I asked him how he managed to live so long, he jokingly stated, "By minding my own business!" I also felt he was very alert and an interesting subject to interview.