A Journalist's Journey To The White House

Feb 27, 2020

Ann B. Walker worked as a radio host, journalist, editor and columnist in Columbus for decades. She is a woman of many firsts: the first woman in broadcast management at WLWC-TV in Columbus, the very first female broadcaster to report on the Ohio legislature, and the first black woman from Franklin County given a White House appointment.

Ann spoke to her daughter Julialynne about the interview she believes led to her position as Media Director for the Community Services Agency under President Jimmy Carter.

Ann’s mother passed away when she was young, leaving her as the only female in a house of men. She grew up in Columbus caring for her father and siblings.

Ann says this work taught her a special kind of resilience and independence that influenced her later accomplishments. Julialynne wanted to learn about her mother’s professional contributions, and turned the conversation to Ann’s trailblazing journalistic work.

After Ann interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King in the late '50s, offers rolled in from stations that wanted to hire her. WOSU and WCMH NBC-4 offered her positions, but the salary was meager. She remembers telling NBC-4, “When you can afford me, call me.”

Eight or so years later in 1968, they called to offer her a fairly-compensated position.

Julialynne asked about Ann’s experience as an interviewer: “So looking back you must have interviewed all kinds of people through the years. Who did you find most fascinating, or the friendliest, or the most captivating?”

“Captured my imagination?" Ann responds. "I know who made me angry.”

Ann says that Angela Davis insisted that her bodyguards join her on the TV set, which she declined. Ann says she couldn’t interview with the bodyguards present - so if Davis refused to dismiss them, she could leave. Davis deliberated and eventually agreed to do the interview without her bodyguards. 

Then came the big interview with Jimmy Carter.

“I did an interview with Jimmy Carter before he became president,” Ann says.

Ann’s presence at the interview was somewhat of a fluke. The NBC-4 news director suggested Ann conduct the interview when a reporter from the Associated Press backed out, saying, “Call Ann, she keeps up with what’s going on.”

Signed photograph of Ann B. Walker and President Jimmy Carter.
Credit Unknown / Courtesy of Ann B. Walker

That’s how Ann found herself on TV speaking with the Democratic presidential nominee in 1976. She had seen him two years before at the Poor People’s Conference in Little Rock, Ark., and had a sense of the issues he cared about.

Unlike the other panelists, she didn’t ask him about Hubert Humphrey. At the end of the interview, Ann remembers Carter gesturing to her and saying, “This little lady is the only one who asked intelligent questions.”

Ann didn’t expect what would happen four years later. When she returned from a trip to Africa in 1980, her husband, Linwood, notified her someone from the White House called and wanted to speak with her. She couldn’t imagine that the White House had any interest in her, but after a few more nudges from her husband, she returned the call.

“And what they wanted me to do was to come into Washington for a job interview," Ann recalls. "They asked if I could come that day or the next day.”

Ann said she couldn’t make it until Friday, and after the interview, the White House asked if she could start on Monday.

“I give all that detail to say that to this day, I don’t know how I got that job. I don’t know if Jimmy Carter remembered that woman out in Columbus, Ohio or what,” Ann says. “Once again, I became the first black woman from Franklin County given a White House appointment."

Ann and Julialynne Walker were recorded in the StoryCorps booth during its recent trip to Columbus. 

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