Editor’s note: With former President Jimmy Carter, 98, in hospice care, we talked to the former mayor who met the one-term 39th U.S. president.
When then-President Jimmy Carter said he planned to visit Fort Wayne, then-Mayor Win Moses knew he couldn’t say the city administration really didn’t have time.
Moses, a Democrat, who recently turned 80, had been in office about six months in May 1980 when Carter visited the city. Fort Wayne had ignobly made national news when visiting civil rights leader and civil rights activist and National Urban League President Vernon Jordan was shot outside what was then the Marriott Inn on the far north side of the city.
Moses had sat beside Jordan earlier that night at a dinner hosted by the local Urban League chapter. “Delightful dinner guest,” Moses said. “We had a fun time talking.”
The two parted ways after the dinner with Moses headed home and Jordan presumably went back to his hotel.
“At about 1:30 in the morning all of a sudden the red phone goes off,” Moses said.
The red phone meant a crisis had occurred. Moses learned that Jordan had been shot and might die.
“Keep in mind this was a time of civil unrest” across the country, Moses said.
Media from across the country soon were calling for information. Jordan had gone out for coffee with a woman from the board of a regional civil rights group and was shot by a rifle. Though no one has ever been charged in the crime, serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, who was executed in 2013, allegedly confessed to the crime because he didn’t like to see Black men and white women together. Jordan was Black, and the woman, who drove him to his hotel, was white.
Moses began calling the Black mayors around the country and one, from Marion who was friends with Jordan, said he wanted to see him and would bring a friend. The friend was Jesse Jackson, a witness to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
“I didn’t know who Jesse Jackson was,” Moses said.
With so much going on, Moses got word that the president wanted to come to town.
“I didn’t have the courage to tell the president we don’t have time for you,” Moses said, “but that’s how it felt.”
Carter’s visit met high security to bring him out of the White House while he was running for reelection at the time.
Moses was holding news conferences twice a day for the first three days after Jordan’s shooting. The president talked to Moses and the police chief for some time about the incident. “We had a news conference condemning violence, condemning civil unrest,” Moses said.
Moses asked that the president not mention Fort Wayne so it wasn’t seen as a home of such troubles. Moses watched as Carter leaned over and spoke to Jordan, who was intubated and unable to talk, though he doesn’t know what the president said.
After Carter left, Moses and the president stayed on friendly terms as the mayor kept him informed of Jordan’s condition. After a few days, Jordan returned to his home and recovered.
Several months later the president invited Moses with other mayors to talk about economic conditions. “We had a good talk. I thought highly of him.”
After Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan, first lady Rosalynn Carter called Moses on the red phone. “She said, ‘Hi, Win, I wanted to thank you. Jimmy and I appreciate what help you gave us.”
That Christmas he got an invitation to dinner at the White House. The Carters spoke to everyone at the tables.
“He’s just a proud gentleman and a real moral gentleman,” Moses said.
As a person, Carter’s actions after he left office showed how moral he was, Moses said. “He believed in helping people and doing things right and honest.”
He is well-known for his work with Habitat for Humanity.
“He’s probably in my mind the best former president I’ve ever heard of,” Moses said. No other president has done such charitable work after leaving office.
Moses believes Carter got a bad wrap as president during the oil crisis that caused gasoline shortages. “He very carefully kept us out of war. I’m not sure there’s another president anywhere that can say they fully avoided war. He had been a nuclear sub commander. He knew what war was and he wasn’t willing to put boys in danger.”
Carter also helped Fort Wayne with a number of federal programs including for public housing.
Moses also recognized Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the American hostages held in the U.S. Embassy in Iran.
“But he was a very solid president. Did well. I think as the historians look at his term in office, it’s somewhat low now, I think it will go up considerably.”
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