The Emmy-nominated documentary “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game” will air at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, on WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) in Detroit. This is the first time the acclaimed film has aired in southeast Michigan.
The film, produced by Stunt3 Multimedia and filmmakers Brian Kruger of Grosse Pointe and Buddy Moorehouse of Gregory, tells the long-forgotten story of the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech football game. In those days, Jim Crow was a sad fact of life in college football, as teams from the South refused to play against any team that had an African-American on the roster.
That created a problem when Georgia Tech came to Ann Arbor on Oct. 20, 1934, because Michigan’s best player was an African-American from Detroit named Willis Ward. The Yellow Jackets said they wouldn’t play the game if Ward were allowed to play, so Michigan agreed to keep him off the first – marking the one and only time in school history that a player was benched because of his race.
The decision to bench Willis Ward infuriated his teammates – especially his best friend on the team, a tall lineman from Grand Rapids named Gerald Ford. Ford quit the team in protest, and eventually agreed to play only after Ward personally asked him to. The incident had a profound impact on Ford, though, shaping his opinions on civil rights and equality later in life as he moved from Congress to the White House. As the documentary points out, Ward and Ford remained lifelong friends.
The documentary, which earned an Emmy nomination in the category of Best Historical Documentary, has received widespread acclaim since its release late last year, and has led to a renewed interest in Willis Ward’s amazing life story.
In September, the Michigan State Senate unanimously voted to declare Oct. 20, 2012, as “Willis Ward Day” in the state of Michigan. The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, thanks to the lobbying efforts of an 8-year-old from Brighton named Genna Urbain.
Earlier this year, Genna and her mother watched “Black and Blue.” Genna was fascinated and outraged by Willis Ward’s story, and was especially upset when the film pointed out that Ward had never been honored or recognized by U-M.
Genna then began to lobby both U-M and the Michigan Legislature, urging them to honor Ward. Both of those efforts ultimately proved to be successful – capped off on Oct. 20 of this year, when Ward was honored during the first half of the Michigan-Michigan State game.
More information on the film is available at stunt3.com.
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