Nesbitt on Willis Ward

Submitted by JeepinBen on October 19th, 2012 at 11:59 AM,0

What the title says. An excellent read and well worth your time.



Kruger bent down, pushed away the grass cropped over the edge of the stone and brushed off the dirt to unveil the forgotten name: Willis Franklin Ward. The name means something different to everyone. For Gerald Ford it meant his closest friend at Michigan. For Jesse Owens it meant his fiercest competitor. For the man himself, it meant being etched in Michigan lore as the only player banned from Michigan Stadium for the color of his skin



Everyone Murders

October 19th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

This story is worth checking out, even though most readers of this blog seem to know the details of the main storyline.

There's one passage I can't figure out:

Kipke relayed that conversation in full two years later in a feature he penned for the November 1934 edition of Esquire, then a one-year-old men’s magazine. Kipke’s essay posited: “The first hundred seconds of any football game are always the hardest.” “Willis Ward’s first hundred seconds were a classic,” Kipke wrote. After Ward finally shirked the nerves enough to get out a sentence, Kipke sent him into punt coverage. On the snap, Ward burst out of his stance and down the field, flying far ahead of his teammates. The punt returner started in Ward’s direction, immediately realized his mistake and ducked. “When he was still ten yards from the man, Willis sort of took of, like one of these fast-climbing jet planes,” Kipke wrote.  [Emphasis supplied.]

How is it possible that he'd use an analogy such as "like a fast-climbing jet plane" made in 1934?  If my history's correct, the first jet aircraft did not fly until 1939 (Heinkel He 178).  If the reference to jet plane is correct, it was a casual reference to something that had not yet been made.  (Jet engine prototypes were in the works.)

I'm not saying the article is citing the article erroneously, but it strikes a really odd reference for 1934. 

All Aboard

October 19th, 2012 at 12:37 PM ^

"The first flight of a jet engined aircraft to come to popular attention was the Italian Caproni Campini N.1 motorjet prototype that flew on August 27, 1940.[4] It was the first jet aircraft recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (at the time the German He 178 program was still kept secret). Campini had proposed the motorjet in 1932."

That's from the wiki page for Jet aircraft. So maybe it was a popular concept, but had not quite yet come to fruition? I don't know haha.

Creedence Tapes

October 19th, 2012 at 8:00 PM ^

The Coandă-1910, designed by Romanian inventor Henri Coandă, was the first full-size attempt at a jet aircraft. Built as a sesquiplane, it featured an experimental aircraft engine which Coandă called the "turbo-propulseur," a centrifugal compressor propulsion system with a multi-bladed rotary fan situated in a duct and driven by a conventional piston engine. The unusual aircraft attracted attention at theSecond International Aeronautical Exhibition in Paris in October 1910, being the only exhibit without a propeller, but the aircraft was not displayed afterward and it fell from public awareness. Coandă used a similar turbo-propulseur to drive a snow sled, but he did not develop it further for aircraft.


October 19th, 2012 at 12:34 PM ^

Good stuff.  In no way am I getting into politics, but it blows my mind that the AD and coach nearly came to blows over playing an African American player at UM but freaking Dartmouth didn't see that as a problem.  It's a bit embarrassing to look back and realize that this level of naked racism existed not that long ago.

Mmmm Hmmm

October 19th, 2012 at 7:44 PM ^

I would note that from Dartmouth had its first African American player in 1901:

They also weren't too bad at football at that point, either, just nine years removed from an MNC achieved in 1925. If Willis Ward had played there from 1935-38, he would have taken part in a 22-game win streak over the course of the 1936-1938 seasons.

(Thanks, wikipedia...)

Section 1

October 19th, 2012 at 1:50 PM ^

Willis Ward didn't exactly die lonely, broke or forgotten.

He was a respected lawyer and Wayne County Probate Court judge.  He had many important friends throughout Detroit and Ann Arbor.  I know exactly where his season Michigan football tickets were in Section 2.  I attended many tailgate affairs where Judge Ward was in attendance; and his friends -- black and white -- treated him with the respect and deference he had so richly earned.  He was royalty, sipping a beverage and wearing a suit, hat and a raincoat (everbody wore coats and ties to games then), on the grass and parked cars at Ferry Field.

And yes; racial prejudice and discrimination was part of the fabric of Detroit, as it was elsewhere in the country, and Willis Ward was a historic pioneer and overcame more than most of us can imagine.

But the notion that Willis Ward was somehow forgotten in his later days is not true, at least by my own personal observation.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:18 PM ^

To add to this, and I only know this because I work for one of the state's regulated utilities, Willis Ward was also an appointee to the Michigan Public Service Commission and served as its chair from 1969 until 1973.

The article that the OP posted is a great piece, and very poignant in a way. I read this, thinking about everything that Ward went through, particularly the controversy regarding the Georgia Tech game, and though about how this was only 68 years ago - really not terribly long ago, although I got a kick out of Gerald Ford flattening Charlie Preston of Georgia Tech for hurling racist insults.


October 19th, 2012 at 3:11 PM ^

I have followed this story with interest the last few years. One thing I haven't read yet has been whether or not Georgia Tech in the last year or two has acknowledged Ward and the situation in any way. I did a google search (Georgia Tech Willis Ward) but the only non-Michigan entry was for USA Today.

This doesn't seem that complicated. Perhaps someone else can explain why GT doesn't make a statement at all.


October 19th, 2012 at 3:40 PM ^

I think it's probably because there are hundreds of African Americans that GT has refused to play against throughout the years. We hold Ward in high regard because of his place in Michigan history and because his story is tied to one of our most famous alumus in Ford, but he's probably not that unique to GT


October 19th, 2012 at 3:44 PM ^

Wasn't race related benching a fairly common practice at the time when playing southern schools? What happened to Willis Ward was a big deal for the University of Michigan. Probably wasn't very remarkable for GT though, at most a footnote. Also not remarkable in the larger context of the civil rights history of this country. They probably haven't made a statement about it because they've probably forgotten about it. Willis Ward was one of the largest civil rights failings in UM history. GT, as a southern institution, has a much larger history to address first before some football game. I don't mean to diminish how awful the incident was, but to expect a response from GT is very Michigan-centric. 

Section 1

October 19th, 2012 at 4:06 PM ^

... were all officially segregated into the mid-1960's, which is precisely how Duffy Daugherty got the incomparable George Webster out of South Carolina, defensive end Bubba Smith and split end Gene Washington out of Texas, quarterback Jimmy Raye from North Carolina and linebacker Charlie Thornhill out of Virginia. 


October 20th, 2012 at 7:56 AM ^

...Greg Dooley to contact the curators of the Arthur Miller library at the University of Texas to see if a draft of his not published Michigan Daily editorial was there. Unfortunately, they reported that it's not.  

Arthur Miller, the future Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, was a staff writer for the Michigan Daily at the time. According to Kruger, Miller drove to Atlanta the week of the game demanding an audience with Georgia Tech. He never had a chance. He returned to the Daily and wrote a scathing editorial that his editors determined unwise to print, leaving it lost to history.

Sadly, it does appear that what would be an incredibly interesting facet of this saga is likely lost to history.