As decreed by the Michigan Legislature back in 2012, today is Willis Ward Day in Michigan. Today is the 83rd anniversary of the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game, in which Ward was benched by Fielding Yost because Georgia Tech refused to play against a black player.
The more you hear about Wilis Ward's story, the more you realize what a great man and underappreciated athlete he was. He was probably the best player on our 1932 and 1933 national championship football teams, and as a sprinter on the track team, he beat Jesse Owens TWICE in 1935.
He later ran the Civil Rights division at Ford Motor Co., served in World War II, served as chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission and was the first African-American probate court judge in Wayne County. This was a truly great man.
Willis Ward didn't deserve what happened to him on Oct. 20, 1934, but he showed that nothing can keep a Wolverine down.
Shame on David Brandon for trying to block the Willis Ward Day celebration in 2012 (it took a petition drive championed by MVictors.com to make it happen), and if you haven't yet seen the "Black and Blue" documentary, do so.
And let us not forget that Willis Ward helped deliver Rashan Gary to campus. When Rashan was being recruited, he met with Jim Hackett and asked about U-M's civil rights history. Hackett told him about "Black and Blue" and about the friendship and lifelong bond that Ward and Gerald Ford formed as a result of that incident. Hackett also relayed how that one sorry incident helped raise the consciousness of the entire campus forever. Rashan was apparently won over.
All hail Willis Ward!