PBS Doc - "Black and Blue" - A story about Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and Michigan Football

Submitted by Space Coyote on July 10th, 2013 at 12:04 PM

mgo.licio.us doesn't get the views it sometimes deserves. This was linked below and the link provided here goes to the facebook page.



Black and Blue- The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan v Georgia Tech Football Game is the latest documentary by filmmakers Brian Kruger and Buddy Moorehouse.
In 1934, Georgia Tech came to Ann Arbor to play the University of Michigan football team in their new stadium. Georgia Tech's athletic director, William Alexander informed Michigan's AD, Fielding H. Yost, that he would need to bench Michigan's only black player, Willis Ward, or Georgia Tech would not play. Michigan chose to bench Ward, and upon hearing the news, Michigan's center, and team MVP that season threatened to quit the team if Ward was benched. That player's name was Gerald Ford, the future 38th President of the United States. The film explores the conflict, Ford's stand for his friend, and Michigan's silence that allowed this to happen to Ward. It's the story of a lifelong friendship, and college athletics in the time of Jim Crow.

It appears it's only airing in Michigan perhaps (sucks for me). Airing this Sunday, at 5:00 PM on PBS.




July 10th, 2013 at 12:07 PM ^

As an individual who does not live in Michigan, has this been released commercially in any way? I'd love to see it, but obviously can't catch the PBS screening.

I've seen a lot of articles and press (mostly from Ann Arbor or SE Michigan outlets) about it, but little to no information about release or distribution.


July 10th, 2013 at 12:25 PM ^

Stunt3 multimedia the film makers web site. You can buy the film, and check out some of the other work they have done. I bought my copy at the mden in Ann Arbor. But I don't see it online for mden. It is a great story.


July 10th, 2013 at 12:50 PM ^

Met the film makers at a TV/Film forum in Ann Arbor last summer. Both great guys who took a big chance to try and make the documentary. Are nothing but blessed with the positive response they have gotten. Defintely a must-see for anyone not just Michigan fans. The producers did constantly discuss that they make very little money for it aside from DVD purchases so go out and get yours today. One cool thing they provide is an educational version that enables schools to purchase a full DVD along with lesson plans and study guides to learn about Civil Rights. Here is the site...



July 10th, 2013 at 1:08 PM ^

Saw it, would recommed it.  Be warned your view of Fielding Yost may forever be altered.

He comes across as almost weak, at first, in his inability to stand up for equality.  However, there is also a moment at the end that maybe sheds some light on a person who begun to see the error of his ways and changed, which I found pretty fascinating. 

Back then, many people were racist.  Rarely do we get insight into how people (in general) changed over time.  Fielding Yost may be a specific example of how someone changed in one lifetime.

It also will make you wonder why Gerald R. Ford is not celebrated on campus and in Ann Arbor as much as someone like Yost.


July 10th, 2013 at 5:22 PM ^

Which was done in 1999. Yost Field House has been Yost Field House for a long time.  Why did it take so much time between Ford's presidency and 1999 to honor him?

Let me put it this way: The number of high school students I teach that know who Fielding Yost was vastly outweighs the number that know who Gerald Ford was. That's not good, if you ask me.


July 10th, 2013 at 1:59 PM ^

Brian Kruger, the filmaker who put this documentary together, came down to Cleveland several months ago and showed the film to the UM Alumni Association of Cleveland.  He gave a very interesting talk about this video, as well as his other videos -- all of which sound very interesting.  If you can somehow get your local alumni association to get him to visit and make his presentation, I guaranty you will enjoy it.

Obviously, he also was selling copies of the video and I gladly bought one.  My family enjoyed it very much.

He had interesting stories about the reluctance of the athletic department to support his efforts.  I suspect their reluctance was driven by the urge to protect the myth of Yost, as well as the desire to avoid any criticism similar to the (perceived) fallout from John Bacon's book, Three and Out.  

The athletic department's resistance was also driven by its business culture.  When Kruger tried to get approvals to use images and film that was thought to belong to UM, the athletic department tried to hold him up for their tariff price for all things Michigan.  He was shocked.  He didn't have that kind of money.  Fortunately, he went around them to the Bentley Library, which is apparently run like a library, not a business.  They were more than happy to help and got him numerous photos, film clips, and newspaper clippings.  He made a point of saying that UM is so lucky to have the Bentley.  Other schools like Georgia Tech have virtually nothing from their earlier days.  They just did not have the same mentality about saving historical records and artifacts for the future as Michigan did.

When it came time to put the video out, he suggested to Brandon that Michigan honor Willis Ward at the Stadium.  He was told no, probably for many of the above reasons.  Kruger went around him by approaching the legislators in Lansing, who had already voted to put a statue of Gerald Ford in the U.S. Capitol statuary hall (replacing abolitionist Zachary Taylor) in large part because of the Willis Ward story.  He suggested that the legislature honor Willis Ward with Willis Ward Day statewide.  Republicans liked the Jerry Ford angle; Democrats liked the civil rights angle.  They asked when?  Kruger suggested the day that UM would play MSU in Ann Arbor.  They said great and passed the resolution.  Kruger went back to Brandon and told him that it was too bad that the only place in the state that would not celebrate Willis Ward Day would be in the very stadium that he was not allowed to play in 1934 because he was black.  Brandon backed down within the hour.

Kruger pointed out that the presentation on the scoreboard at the MSU game was sort of watered down and seemed a bit lame.  I had noticed that too when I was at the game.  The fact is that if you leave out the details about Yost agreeing to play Ga. Tech and not standing up for Ward, as well as the disagreement among students, faculty, and Ward's teammates, you really can't get a handle on the very interesting story.  All in all, that day in 1934 was not a very proud day for Michigan and that really is the story.

Hope you all get a chance to see the video and hear Brian Kruger introduce it.


July 10th, 2013 at 2:01 PM ^

Attended a screening in NYC a year or two ago as an alumni association event, and purchased the DVD from the stunt3 website.  An absolute must-see.

Other fascinating tidbits (whether from the documentary or the Q&A afterwards, I can't be sure-- they did add some background info not in the film) include Willis Ward having had a track rivalry with one Jesse Owens, who happened to be an OSU student (before his fame as the African-American showing up Hitler in the German stadium).  Each beat the other at least once.  There is a plaque on the Michigan campus commemorating Owens (perhaps his setting a record here), but nothing commemorating Ward.  

And not only was Ward benched for the infamous Georgia Tech game, he was not even allowed in the stadium (in case it should cause a disturbance).  Ward was also given an Olympic try-out, but he didn't run his best, supposedly so disheartened by the Georgia Tech experience.

The filmmakers stressed that the campus was not in full support of Yost's action.  Professors and students voiced their protest, and playwright Arthur Miller, then on the staff of the Michigan Daily, wrote an editorial of outrage, though I seem to remember it wasn't printed. 

As for Yost, he was from West Virginia, where this kind of "gentlemen's" agreement was standard.  Not that it's defensible, but, as MGoBender says, the record shows he did alter his views over time.


July 10th, 2013 at 7:48 PM ^

This has been commented on previously, but one of Ward's many claims to fame was besting Owens in a 1935 indoor meet in Ann Arbor (http://mvictors.com/?p=11938). But a couple of months later Owens trumped that in the 1935 Big Ten outdoor championship meet, held at Ferry Field. It was his exploits on that day that have been commemmorated in the plaque there -- it was only perhaps the most amazing hour in the history of sports (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/more/05/24/owens.record.day/index.html) as Owens set four world records in that time frame... an achievement that is actually far more impressive than his more heralded accomplishments at the '36 Berlin Olympics. It takes something of that nature for a Buckeye to be immortalized by a plaque on the UM campus.... 


July 10th, 2013 at 2:18 PM ^

This just shows the honesty and integrity of Gerald Ford and why in my opinion he was a GREAT President .


After Watergate he KNEW pardoning Nixon would cost him re-election but he did it anyways. WHY?   because at that time the nation was mired in scandal and the economy was in shambles. A prolonged Court battle after Nixon resigned would just drag the country further and further down. The nation needed to recover and rebound  so he did the one thing that would move the country forward.. Pardon Nixon, move the country forward and move on. He KNEW it would cost him the presidency but he did it because it was in the NATIONS best interest...THAT my friend is what a REAL President with Integrity, character and honesty does.


This country could use another Gerald Ford


July 10th, 2013 at 7:31 PM ^

Thank you all for your kudos and kind words. This is an important story, every bit as relevant today as ever for the need to stand up for what is right. Filmmakers Brian Kruger and Buddy Moorehouse make fabulous movies, several of which (including this one) have been nominated for Emmy awards. It's well worth checking out their other films. I've known them since high school. I'm proud of them and to have been associated in a small way with this film.


July 11th, 2013 at 7:01 AM ^

is it true that UM didn't schedule Southern schools for decades after the GT game, as sort of fallout from the Ward situation. iIRC the South Carolina game in 1985 was the next one in the regular season against a truly southern team?


July 11th, 2013 at 8:53 AM ^

as Vanderbilt, Tulane, SMU, A&M and fringe schools such as Va, N.C., Mizzou(lots of segregation in those states) then you are correct.  But because you can't dismiss those teams, especially Vandy, Tulane, SMU, all deeply southern, your information is wrong.