Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Ford Makes First Presidential Visit Here

On April 2, 1976, Congressman Joe D. Waggonner of Plain Dealing announced that the United States President Gerald R. Ford accepted his invitation to visit the Shreveport-Bossier area on April 27th during the 28th annual Holiday in Dixie Festival. This visit from Ford was the first formal visit to Northwest Louisiana from any incumbent President. 

Lyndon B. Johnson, technically came to Barksdale AFB before Ford did. However, his stop was only a few minutes long as President Johnson and the First Lady, better known as Lady Bird, arrived by helicopter only to board the Presidential jet, which was being refueled at Barksdale AFB. They had just been to Texarkana for the funeral of Mrs. Wright Patman, wife of a Texas democratic congressman and then to Karnak, Tx, Lady Birds home town. For those that know of Johnson's deep disdain for Shreveport, it is no surprise that he was here for just those short few minutes and could hardly be considered a formal visit.

At the Bossier Parish Library History Center, we have the daily diary of President Gerald R. Ford for that day, in our collection, showing all the details of his very busy day, which started at 7:10 a.m. with breakfast. After many appointments and meetings, he traveled by helicopter to Andrew Air Force Base, where he boarded the "Spirit of 76" a.k.a. Air Force One and flew to Barksdale AFB, where he was greeted by Governor Edwin Edwards, along with other local and government elected officials, and an estimated crowd of well over 35,000.

President Gerald R. Ford addressing the crowd shortly after arrival to BAFB, April 27, 1976.
Shortly after landing at Barksdale AFB, Ford addressed the crowd gathered for his visit, stating that he was "delighted to be here" and to participate in the Holiday in Dixie festivities that day. During his speech, he took the time to mention that Waggonner was "a very old and very dear friend," and he thanked him for his friendship. 

Ford also proclaimed that "Barksdale Air Force Base stands as a shining example of national security at its very best and as a tall, tall monument to the cooperative efforts of the citizens of this area and of the military." "As the home of the Strategic Air Command's 8th Air Force, Barksdale serves as one of the cornerstones of our defense system."

After the rally, Ford was escorted to the Barksdale Guest Quarters, where a sign, made especially for his visit, read "Welcome to the Louisiana White House" was hanging on the lawn of the guest quarters. After a short rest, the President attended two question and answer sessions. One with the press at the guest quarters and then another at Hanger 1-A auditorium, which was hosted by Bossier City Mayor James Cathey and Shreveport Mayor L. Calhoun Allen, Jr. for local elected officials from throughout Louisiana.

President Gerald R. Ford and Rep. Joe D. Waggonner
April 27, 1976, BAFB Guest House. Source:
That evening Ford was honored at a VIP reception at the Ellerbe Road estate of Dalton Woods, the chairman of the Ambassadors Club, where he was made a Holiday in Dixie Ambassador and presented with an ambassador medallion. There were approximately 180 people in attendance, including the leadership of the Ambassadors' Club and local officials.After the VIP reception, the President attended a general reception on the lawn with nearly 1,000 guests.

The last stop during his visit, Ford attended the annual Holiday in Dixie Military Ball at the Shreveport Convention Hall. This ball is sponsored by the Louisiana National Guard Officers' Wives Club and is a salute to the military. Here, Ford addressed a crowd of about 1,000 people before leaving. He returned to Barksdale AFB, where he boarded the "Spirit of '76" at 9:45 p.m. for a flight to Texas to campaign ahead of the primaries.

To read Ford's daily diary for April 27, 1976, along with notes from his questions and answers events, and his speeches given that day while visiting the Shreveport Bossier area, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City, LA.

By: Amy Robertson

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