"Black and Blue" Review

"Black and Blue" Review

Submitted by M Fanfare on November 17th, 2011 at 3:15 PM

I do not live in Michigan anymore so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to catch a local screening of Black and Blue.  However, the producers of the film, Stunt3 Multimedia, already have the documentary available on DVD, and I took advantage of a special offer through MVictors.com to buy the DVD with free shipping.  I watched the film today and was enthralled.

For those of you who do not know, Black and Blue is the story of the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game, where Michigan and Georgia Tech forced black Michigan player Willis Ward to sit out due to racial prejudice, and the stand that his teammate and future Speaker of the House and US President Gerald R. Ford took in support of his friend.

Black and Blue is done in Ken Burns style, with narration and music over slowly-panning still photographs, a few film clips, and interviews with experts, including Greg Dooley of MVictors, John U. Bacon, Civil Rights historian Tyran Steward, Richard Norton Smith, a prominent biographer of US Presidents who has worked at several presidential libraries and got to know Ford on a personal level, one of Ward’s grandsons Samuel Thomas, and For’d son Steve Ford.  The film also includes audio and video of interviews with Willis Ward done in the 1970s.  The music is all recordings of the Men’s Glee Club singing traditional Michigan songs, and Black and Blue includes many great photos of the Michigan campus of the day.

If Three and Out paints an unflattering portrait of Lloyd Carr, Black and Blue does the same for Fielding Yost, who is set up as the primary antagonist--and for good reason.  Bacon talks about Yost’s racial attitudes, both known and assumed, and relates a story where Yost and football coach Harry Kipke had an intense argument over Kipke’s desire to recruit Willis Ward out of Detroit Northwestern High School.  Bacon says account vary, but some say that the two men actually came to blows.

One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is that it shows some of the correspondence from Georgia Tech to Michigan, begging Yost to sit Ward out (in accordance to the practices of the time, Georgia Tech would sit out a player of “equal ability”) or cancel the game before either school received bad press over the incident.  Yost made his decision over the summer, but his attempts to keep the story quiet backfired and blew up into a national story.

Black and Blue then covers the controversy, including several letters and telegrams sent to Yost and Kipke by alumni who objected to Michigan bowing to southern racism.  It even includes the transcript of a meeting of the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics where the members tried to manage the scandal.  Yost even hired Pinkerton Detectives to provide security to the Athletics administrators and to spy on the student groups that supported Willis Ward.

As the protests raged, doubt began to creep in that the game would be played. Even so, Gerald Ford told Harry Kipke and his father that he was quitting the team.  He only decided to play when Willis Ward asked him to play the game.  Though the whole team was bitter about Ward’s benching, at the 11th hour it was announced that the game would go on.  In a final indignity, Yost banned Ward from the entire stadium, not just the sideline. He had to listen to the game on the radio at his frat house.

As the game started, a Georgia Tech sophomore, Charlie Prescott, started mouthing off an hurling racial remarks at the Michigan team.  According to Ward, Prescott called Ford a “nigger-lover.”  Ford, who was slow to anger his whole life, lost his temper.  The next play, Ford and one of the guards hit Prescott so hard that they knocked him out of the game.  They told Ward on Monday that they dedicated that block to him (Ward gave a big smile in the interview at the end of that story).  In an excellent bit of film editing, the film ends this emotional moment with the Glee Club singing “The Victors” while panning a photo of Ford in his pre-snap position. 

Unfortunately, Ford said later that the Georgia Tech game ruined the 1934 Michigan team, despite the ugly 9-2 victory against the Yellow Jackets (Michigan scored a punt return touchdown, and the lack of offense and two safeties, combined with terrible weather and the Ward scandal made for a really terrible day).  Interestingly, as Michigan lost its last five games to end the year 1-7, they only scored 12 points.  All 12 were scored by Willis Ward. 

Black and Blue asserts that not only did the incident wreck the Michigan football program until the arrival of Fritz Crisler in 1938, it also had an obviously negative impact on Willis Ward to the point that he lost his love of athletics.  Ward was the star of the football team but was a much better track athlete.  He was one of the only athletes to ever beat Ohio State’s Jesse Owens on the track, and Ward was widely considered to be a favorite to win gold medals for the US Olympic team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  But the Georgia Tech game scarred him so badly that he did not want to suffer similar humiliation at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, so he refused to join the US Olympic team.

Black and Blue also covers the friendship between Ford and Ward after graduation, when Ford helped Ward campaign for office and encouraged his appointment to a judgeship.  Their friendship also informed Ford’s support of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and his public support for the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies that may have played a role in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote in favor of its legality.  Also to the film’s credit, it covers Yost’s softened racial stand after the Georgia Tech game when he forced the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago (where the Big Ten was founded and where all Big Ten teams stayed when they played Northwestern or Chicago) to accept Ward as their second-ever black customer.

In the end, Black and Blue is a wonderful and interesting story about the friendship of two men, one white from Grand Rapids and one black from Detroit, who were involved in an ugly incident of racial prejudice, and how Ford used the incident to champion Civil Rights for African-Americans for the rest of his life.  I knew about the Willis Ward incident before I saw Black and Blue, but I learned quite a lot.  I would like to have seen some more coverage of Harry Kipke’s role and the role of University administrators in the incident, and they discuss an unpublished Michigan Daily editorial covering the incident by Arthur Miller, but do not show it (I am not sure it exists, but if it does it would have been really interesting to see).  If you have the time, I highly recommend going to see it, it is very well done and it is an important but not widely-known part of Michigan football history and ultimately American history.  

To Which M-Clan Do You Belong?

To Which M-Clan Do You Belong?

Submitted by MGoShoe on January 14th, 2011 at 5:59 PM

Over at MVictors.com, Greg Dooley has collaborated with Craig Barker of The Hoover Street Rag (aka MGoUser Yostal) and MVictors contributor Lew to develop:

...what “we” look like at [this] given point in Michigan history.

Clan descriptions at the MVictors link above.


I put myself squarely in the Fierce Pragmatists camp with a dash of Decatur (natch). How about you? Of course, if you're looking at this, you're also an Obsessive in Craig's 80-10-10 casual-serious-obsessive breakdown, so don't even bother with that. That is, as they say, a given.

MVictors.com: Cure for the “Discontented and Hostile” Michigan Factions

MVictors.com: Cure for the “Discontented and Hostile” Michigan Factions

Submitted by MGoShoe on January 9th, 2011 at 9:07 AM

Check out this guest post at MVictors.com by John Kryk, author of Natural Enemies (the definitive history of the Michigan - Notre Dame rivalry) and an upcoming book covering Fielding Yost and his point-a-minute teams.

Quite the interesting perspective on what it takes to seal the fissures that exist among the Michigan fanbase.

MVictors.com Interview w/ Author of "The Big House"

MVictors.com Interview w/ Author of "The Big House"

Submitted by MGoShoe on September 21st, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Over at MVictors.com, Greg Dooley has posted a great interview with Dr. Robert Soderstrom, author of The Big House, Fielding Yost and the Building of Michigan Stadium (Huron River Press, 2005).

Topics covered include the difference between conducting research on football history at Michigan and Illinois; an idea of what it takes to do the level of research needed for a book of this magnitude; the difficulties he had convincing a publisher that anyone would care about "a stadium"; Soderstrom's opinion of the stadium renovation; how important it was for the project's success that it was led by Fielding Yost and that it was done when it was done; how close the project came to failing miserably because of water issues during excavation; and then there's this:

MVictors: One of the greatest tales of Michigan Stadium involves a crane or steam shovel being buried beneath the stadium, lost in all that water and sand during the build. But you didn’t find any evidence of this in your research?

Soderstrom: [laughs] I was unable to confirm that and I’ve heard that story since I arrive in Ann Arbor way back in 1968. I could not find anything in the current literature, either in the Ann Arbor News or the Michigan Daily or anything. I can’t imagine that wouldn’t have been recorded by somebody if in fact they had lost a whole steam shovel. The [excavator] lost everything else. I also asked his granddaughter and she said she never heard that story from her grandfather.

Sorry to burst anyone's bubble about the great apocryphal Michigan Stadium steam shovel. All in all, another great MVictors.com read and must reading for any Michigan Stadium aficionado (aren't we all?).

An Interview w/ John Pollack of "Save the Big House"

An Interview w/ John Pollack of "Save the Big House"

Submitted by MGoShoe on July 13th, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Greg Dooley of mvictors.com caught up with John Pollack, the leader of "Save the Big House", the group that fought the university's stadium expansion plan and conducted this interview

Whatever you think of his cause (for the record, I don't agree with much of what he says), it's an interesting read. 

New DRob Avatar: Be the First to Claim It

New DRob Avatar: Be the First to Claim It

Submitted by MGoShoe on April 26th, 2010 at 11:25 AM

So over at MVictors.com, Greg has a great eBay watch post up about a couple of Fielding Yost auctions including a 20's vintage helmet from the line of football gear he endorsed [article listed by Brian at m.go.licio.us as well].

The article is definitely worth a read and some of the items may be worth a bid. But...

...Greg's post also contains a great photoshop of DRob sporting that same helmet.

It seem like a natural for an MGoBlogster avatar, so if you like it, go grab it.