Dr. John Telford has long been called a lightning rod for controversy. He retired in 1991 as the deputy superintendent of Schools in 98% white Rochester, Michigan, where skinheads riddled his house with midnight gunfire for hiring black administrators. After retiring, he became an executive director in the Detroit Public Schools, where he clashed with inept top administrators.
He served most recently as the superintendent of the Madison District Schools and was fired for recruiting hundreds of Detroit students against the wishes of white residents. Undefeated at 400 meters in Europe as a worldranked sprinter, Dr. Telford coached champions and authored a noted book on the quarter mile —The Longest Dash. In 1978, he was inducted into the Wayne State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
He has written newspaper columns, hosted radio shows, and directed human-rights agencies. A former director of the innovative and controversial Division of Basic Education at Macomb Community College and a published poet, he also taught at Wayne State and Oakland universities. Wayne State University named Dr. Telford its Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2001 for his civil-rights activism. A Detroit high school track is named for him.
Throughout the years, his students have consistently pronounced him a great teacher. Their accolades are the ones the 73-year-old activist values most.