image[Ed October 20, 2014.  In honor of the 80th anniversary of the Michigan-Georgia Tech game played on October 20, 1934, a repost on the campus protests leading up to this low point in Michigan football lore.  Original posted April 2009.]

The early 1930s are a fascinating stretch in Michigan football history and I’ve written much on the highs and lows of that period in eBay Watch and elsewhere.  A relative recently asked me which story from Michigan history was the most interesting to me, and the first thing that came to mind was the Willis Ward incident of 1934.  I’ve hit on it in Hail to the Victors 2008, in a few posts here, in a guest post on mgoblog, and even on WTKA radio with John U. Bacon.

This week an eBay auction got me thinking about the incident once again.  A seller is offering a pic of Ward (above) which is described to be an original wire photo.  The bidding started at $9.75.

Here’s a quick debrief on the controversy leading up to the game with Georgia Tech, as summarized in my mgo-guest post from earlier this year:

During the miserable 1934 season, controversy erupted prior to the scheduled game against Georgia Tech as the Yellow Jacket officials made it clear they would not take the field against a black player.  Protests ensued on campus and within the team (it’s rumored that [Gerald] Ford threatened to quit).  I’ve read that future famous playwright Arthur Miller, who was on the Daily staff at the time, tried to intervene.   Eventually the game was played without Ward and resulted in a 9-2 Michigan win.  [For more, here’s a Daily article from 1999, and Ward’s Wikipedia page.]

One correction:  I don’t think Miller was on the Daily staff in 1934 (he’s not listed on the directory in the ‘34 paper) although he did write for the Daily during his stay at Michigan and apparently did try to intervene with the Georgia Tech players.   Ward’s Wikipedia entry cites a story from a Miller biography explaining the future playwright’s role in the drama:

In his biography of Miller, Enoch Brater noted that Miller had friends from Arkansas who knew one of the Georgia Tech players. Brater described Miller’s involvement this way: “Remmel [Miller’s friend from Arkansas] took Miller with them to meet with members of the team, to protest but also to appeal to the athletes’ sense of fair play. ‘Miller was right in the middle of this’, Remmel recalls. Not only did the visiting team rebuff ‘the Yankee’ Miller ‘in salty language’, but they told him they would actually kill Ward if he set one foot on the Michigan gridiron. ‘The Georgia Tech team was wild.’ Miller was furious. He ‘went immediately to the office of the Michigan Daily and wrote an article about it, but it was not published.’

It’s a fascinating story and as I mentioned as an mgo-guest, it deserves a full documentary or movie.  One of the reasons I don’t think it’s been talked about very much is that the events didn’t exactly put Georgia Tech or Michigan in a favorable light, as Ward didn’t play in the game.**

The Protests
Despite mentioning the story in a few places, I really haven’t taken a deep dive.  I recently stopped by the Bentley Library and looked through some of the pages of The Daily in the days around the October 20, 1934 game against the Yellow Jackets.

As a student paper should do, their words focused on the situation on campus and it’s a pretty interesting tale.   Upon learning of the demand by Tech that Ward not play in the game, a group of students formed the ‘Ward United Front Committee’ and collected 1,500 signatures supporting their cause.  The petition read:

“We, the undersigned, declare ourselves unalterably opposed to the racial discrimination evidenced in the proposed exclusion of Willis Ward from the Georgia Tech game.  We support the slogan: Either Ward plays or the game must be cancelled.”

The United Front even reached out to quarterback Benny Friedman, who was coaching at the City College of New York at the time, hoping the legend would tender a statement in support of the cause.

The group scheduled a meeting for the Friday night (10/19) before the game, a time typically reserved for pep rallies.  The Daily wrote the meeting was called with “the purpose of  crystallizing sentiment on the Ward affair.”

The meeting, held inside the packed Natural Science Auditorium, was ugly. Daily writer Bernard Weismann described the scene:

Smoldering feelings on the question of Willis Ward’s participation in the Georgia Tech game burst into flame last night at what was probably the wildest and strangest Friday night rally in Michigan’s history.

Speakers on both sides of the debate tried to weigh in on the controversy only to be heckled by the other side.  The chairman of the event, Abner Morton, took the stage but was overwhelmed by “boos, clapping and ‘wisecracks’”.

Next up was a professor named Harold J. McFarlan who was forced to dodge “coins that were tossed at the speaker” along with the catcalls, and eventually he just walk off stage.   Morton then returned and challenged his hecklers to bring up a representative to speak their piece, which prompted “taunts of ‘yellow’” from the other side of the crowd.

Finally someone from the opposition group stepped up and argued that it wasn’t right to require Ward to play especially if he could be injured by the Tech players, and further, that the coaches had earned the right to say whether Ward should be exposed to potential harm.  The shouts and taunts from the crowd continued.

Breaking the hysteria was a gent named Sher Quraishi (fact: he’s the founder of that co-op house on State Street that stands today) who decided to tear everyone a collective new one:

[Quraishi] was the first to obtain a semblance of attention from the entire audience.  He branded the audience a “bunch of fools,” unable to learn from the mistakes of others.  “You with the advantage of a university education can’t even allow a meeting to be held until you are bawled out.”

Snap!  Things settled down after that and many left the meeting before it concluded.  Those who stayed agreed to formally protest the scheduling of the Jackets by the the university’s Board in Control of Athletics.

The Deal
The day of the game The Daily printed quotes from the key administrators in the athletic department.  Legendary coach and acting athletic director Fielding Yost told reporters, “I haven’t anything to do with it,” when asked whether Ward would play.   Chairman of the Board of Athletics Ralph Aigler echoed the sidestep as well, saying, “In the 22 years I have been a member of the athletic board, I have never had anything to say about who played; I am not going to begin now.”

Ward himself was reached and referred the questions to coach Harry Kipke saying, “I haven’t anything to say about it, you had better call the coach.”   An attempt to get a comment from coach Kipke at his home and at Barton Hills Country Club (where the team stayed before the game) failed.

A deal was struck before the game, and we know that Georgia Tech coach Bill Alexander agreed to hold out his regular starting end Emmett ‘Hoot’ Gibson.  There are a few accounts describing an all-night debate between Alexander and Yost (although Yost is incorrectly referred to as Michigan’s coach in many versions), and I’ve also heard that Gibson never forgave his coach for agreeing to such a deal.

There are various accounts in his Wikipedia entry as to where Ward resided during the actual game.  The Daily is pretty specific: he watched the game from the press box, sheltered from the “downpour which started with the opening kickoff and continued intermittently all afternoon.”   The Chicago Tribune also placed Ward and Franklin Lett ( another African American who is on the extended 1934 team roster but not in the team photo)  in the press box, specifically within the “broadcasting booths.”

Parting Shots
Several beautifully composed letters were printed in the Daily in the days after the game, generally venting their disgust over the entire incident: from the behavior on the students, to the actions of the athletic department for scheduling this game, to the Michigan Daily for its coverage and editorials.

Here’s an excerpt of one student’s view of the Friday meeting, describing some of the behavior as “Hitleristic” (keep in mind this was 1934):


One note, submitted by five students, was particularly poignant.  It blasted The Daily for its coverage of the controversy.  Two small excerpts, here’s the first:


And in further ripping the Daily, a few excellent questions for the athletic department:


Despite the sharp criticism of The Daily leveled by the missive above, the paper definitely did a fine job covering the temperature on campus that week.   Should they have dug deeper into some of the questions raised in the letters?  Probably, but I’m not clear on the type of access or control that they possessed at the time.  I don’t know if Arthur Miller’s draft piece still exists, but it would be fascinating to see what he wrote after facing the Tech players.  Was it squashed by the Daily brass?

In its editorial wrapping up the incident (and this was mentioned in the 1999 Daily piece on Ward as well as in his Wikipedia page), the Daily wrote:

“It was the peculiar characteristic of the Ward-Georgia Tech matter that everyone who touched it did so only to lose in respect and esteem.”

The auction of the Ward photo ends April 30th.

**Update:  This point (that we don’t hear about the stories where ‘good’ didn’t triumph) expressed better by The Joe Cribbs Car Wash:

For the past few years, one of the most tried-and-true feature story tactics from the likes of ESPN has been the “team from the earlier part of the century heroically stands up against discrimination.” I mean, who doesn’t love one of those stories? Easy journalistic money.

Of course, you don’t ever hear about about the stories where teams had the chance to take a similar stand and didn’t..

Yost’s Warning to you Drunks (1933)
1933 and the Dickinson Formula
1933 MSC Ticket Application
Harry Kipke and the Fall of 1934
Smoke ‘em if you Got ‘em (1935-ish)

02. November 2013 · Comments Off on TWIMFbH: Track Meet Cures Depression (1935) · Categories: 2013 · Tags: , , ,

Stark Wire photo from the 1935 Penn game.  That’s U-M’s Stark Ritchie toting the pigskin.  (via eBay)

Harry Kipke was an All-American start on Fielding Yost’s squads in the early 1920s, and then took a shot a coaching, first as an assistant at Missouri, then took the head coaching job up the road at Michigan State in 1928. When the head coaching job came free in Ann Arbor, Yost brought Kipke home and he got off to a fast start.   But then 1934 hit:

That 16-6 win over Penn in 1935 was probably Kipke’s last great win of his coaching career.

You can find more on the Willis Ward vs. Jesse Owens match-up here, and if you can Owens stomach it, the run down of why Kipke was fired here.   And if you need more on the 1934 Georgia Tech game controversy, grab Stunt3 Multimedia’s epic documentary today.

You can catch all of the This Week in Michigan Football History clips here….sponsored in 2013 by Ziebart of Yspilanti.    And don’t forget to catch it live today on the KeyBank Countdown to kick-off on WTKA 1050AM.

Related:  I’ll be shoving off to East Lansing so check back here and on Twitter for sights, snark, and sounds.

28. December 2012 · Comments Off on Willis Ward at 100 · Categories: 2012 · Tags: , ,

Born on this day a century ago, Willis Ward.  The former Michigan track and football star was honored this season at Michigan Stadium:

Willis Ward Michigan Stadium His involvement in the controversy around the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game is of course chronicled in the documentary Black and Blue.  October 20, 2012 was declared “Willis Ward Day” in the State of Michigan.

Have a toast tonight to Willis Ward!

Living Legacy: Interview with U-M Senior Melanie Ward
Willis Ward Blitz
TWIWMFbH – Live! Willis Ward, Gerald Ford and 1932
The Willis Ward Protests (1934)
Faster Than Jesse Owens (1935)


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A few sights from Saturday pregame and postgame:

  So during pregame, the Spartan kickers ran over to the U-M (north) side of the field.  Gibby trotted over to keep an eye on things.


Dantonio took the field with a smirk as he was thoroughly abused by the tunnel taunters

You can’t get the half boar, half rat hat at Moe’s (yet)


Bell checking out the new fangled shiny helmets.  Not a fan but they did look better on TV (and even in this photo).  In person it looked like the shade of green was much lighter.



Many former football greats were on hand, including Mark Messner (above) who no doubt recalled his epic battles with Michigan State’s Tony Mandarich


 1 wards
Honoring Willis Ward on the 78th anniversary of the Georgia Tech game.  Props to John U. Bacon for first writing about the story, and Brian and Buddy at Stunt3 for the wonderful Black and Blue documentary.   Speaking of Brian – you can hear our live edition of This Week in Michigan Football History from Saturday right here


At this point Fowler figured it was time to GTFO


Lewan and Gholston smokem peace pipe after the game

e 2 mealer bunyan

Photos:  mgoblog
Photos: MBN
Photos: Michigan Daily

Photos: UMGoBlue pics


  • Dr. Sap’s Decals – Michigan State!
  • By A Hair!
  • TWIWMFbH – Live! Willis Ward, Gerald Ford and 1932
  • Willis Ward Blitz
  • Living Legacy: Interview with U-M Senior Melanie Ward

  • If you read this site you know that Saturday is officially Willis Ward Day in the state of Michigan.  It is also not-so coincidentally the 78th anniversary of the infamous 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game.  I bet you didn’t know this: there’s a descendant of Willis Ward currently studying on campus in Ann Arbor.

    IMelanieWard Photo met Melanie Ward, the grand niece of Ward (Willis is her grandfather’s brother), at a screening of Black and Blue at the U-M Alumni Center on campus earlier this year.  Ward (left) is currently a U-M senior and was kind enough to chat with me this weekend as we approach the day that will honor her great uncle. 

    MVictors: What did you know about your great uncle before coming to U-M?
    Melanie Ward: I knew that I had a great uncle who played football for the University of Michigan in the 1930s. I also knew a little later that Gerald Ford also played on his team. But I did not know anything about the Georgia Tech football game.

    MVictors: Do you have any other family members who attended Michigan?
    Ward: Just Willis and his sister-law, who is my dad’s mother.

    MVictors: So when did you learn about the controversy about the 1934 Georgia Tech game and Willis Ward’s involvement?
    Ward: At the screening of the documentary at the Alumni Center.

    MVictors: Wow.  So how did you find out about the documentary?
    Ward:  I don’t remember specifically but I saw it online. I saw the name ‘Willis Ward’ and knew that this was my great uncle. I saw the name of the documentary and I was like, ‘I don’t know about this football game!’.   I would have gone regardless but I was like, ‘Wow, I really gotta go to see that.’

    He died way before my parents were even married, so I can understand why no one really mentioned it to me.  My grandpa, who was around his age, died when I was really young so I can understand why no one told me.

    MVictors: So what did you think of the Black and Blue documentary?  What were your feelings right after you watched it?
    Ward: I thought it was a really great documentary. I just really appreciated that there were people spending so much time and literally dedicating themselves of making other people aware of what happened and that they dedicated so much time. I was especially astonished to learn that Tyran [Steward] wrote his entire dissertation about it. That was the main emotion – just a very deep appreciation. And of course I learned a lot about my family history that I didn’t know before.

    MVictors: One of the villains in Black and Blue, if you want to call it that, is Fielding Yost, who is still revered in these parts for all his work in athletics and on the athletic campus. If you don’t want to get into this I understand, but knowing the story, knowing how your great uncle was treated–do you have any feelings toward Yost and his involvement in the ’34 Georgia Tech game?

    Ward: You know, I don’t have any bad feelings toward anyone specifically.  I understand how things worked and if we wanted to play Georgia Tech we had to make a tough decision.  I can accept that certain decisions were made.  The only thing that disappointed me is that it took so long for this to be recognized and to be brought into the spotlight, with the University of Michigan being such a liberal university.  Being so liberal and so emphatic about social justice and racial justice, we’re really big on that at U-M…it kind of disappoints me that it took so long for us to admit this happened.

    MVictors: Do you have any plans for next Saturday?
    Ward: No because actually I wasn’t exactly sure…I knew that it was going to be Willis Ward Day, but I didn’t know what [the athletic department] planned to do. No one really seems to know whether they plan to do anything. Maybe I’ll have my family come up and we’ll watch the game.

    MVictors: Thank you!

    [Ed. A big thanks to Melanie for chatting with me and for providing the photo.]

    * Director Brian Kruger discusses Black and Blue
    * Harry Kipke and the Fall of 1934
    * Jesse Owns and Gerald Ford (1934)
    * The Willis Ward Protests (1934)


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    01. October 2012 · Comments Off on Willis Ward Getting His Day · Categories: 2012 · Tags: , , , , ,

    Readers know I’ve been pushing for a while to have Willis Ward honored by U-M. 

    willis ward While that hasn’t happened just yet, this isn’t half bad either–last week the State of Michigan Senate unanimously passed a resolution to declare October 20, 2012 as “Willis Ward Day” throughout Michigan.  

    The Detroit News is getting behind the idea as well.  Check out the editorial from September 29:

    A petition for history’s sake

    On Oct. 20, 1934, U-M football star Willis Ward was held out of a home game against Georgia Tech because the Southern school refused to suit up against a black player. The incident is widely regarded as the darkest day in the proud, 133-year history of Michigan football. As much as Michigan alums and the Ann Arbor community tried, they were unable to get then-athletic director Fielding Yost to stand for right and defend his player. Exactly 78 years later, on Oct. 20, Michigan faces the Michigan State Spartans in a home game. Filmmakers Buddy Moorehouse and Brian Kruger, creators of "Black & Blue," a documentary on Ward (and teammate and future U.S. President Gerald Ford, who almost quit after Ward’s mistreatment) have started a petition on to get U-M to honor Ward on the 20th, with the whole world watching. Signing the petition will help. Officially honoring Ward and acknowledging the incident would be better. Getting Georgia Tech back on the schedule would bring the story full-circle.

    And check this out: part of the momentum to honor Ward was created by an 8 year-old girl named Genna Urbain, a third-grader at Hilton Elementary School in Brighton, MI.  [Ed. When I in third grade my contribution to society involved catching turtles and frogs and then letting them go.]  Via

    Earlier this year, Genna and her mother, Alicia, watched the Emmy-nominated documentary, “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game,” produced by Stunt3 Multimedia of Detroit. Genna was fascinated and outraged by Willis Ward’s story, and was especially upset when the film pointed out that Ward has never been honored or recognized by U-M.

    Genna took it upon herself to personally lobby both the University of Michigan Board of Regents and members of the Michigan Legislature, urging them to honor Ward.

    Here’s the full press release on Willis Ward Day via Stunt3 Multimedia:

    State Senate Votes to Name Oct. 20, 2012, as Willis Ward Day in the State of Michigan, Honoring U-M Football Player Who Was Benched Because of His Race in 1934

    LANSING, Michigan (September 27, 2012) – The Michigan Senate voted unanimously today to proclaim Oct. 20, 2012, as Willis Ward Day in the state of Michigan, honoring the black University of Michigan student-athlete who was benched because of his race when U-M played Georgia Tech in football on Oct. 20, 1934.

    The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and it all came about thanks to the lobbying efforts of an 8-year-old from Brighton named Genna Urbain.

    Earlier this year, Genna and her mother watched the Emmy-nominated documentary, “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game,” produced by Stunt3 Multimedia of Detroit. Genna was fascinated and outraged by Willis Ward’s story, and was especially upset when the film pointed out that Ward has never been honored or recognized by U-M.

    Genna took it upon herself to personally lobby both the University of Michigan Board of Regents and members of the Michigan Legislature, urging them to honor Ward. Sen. Schuitmaker took her up on the request, sponsoring the resolution that was adopted today. Genna was invited onto the Senate floor when the resolution was approved.

    In her remarks on the Senate floor today, Schuitmaker noted that Michigan has another home game this year on the 78th anniversary of the Georgia Tech game.

    “Oct. 20 is significant this year as the date that Michigan and Michigan State will play their game in Ann Arbor,” Schuitmaker said. “I urge my colleagues to see this incredible film, called ‘Black and Blue.’ ”

    The producers of “Black and Blue” have mounted a campaign to have Ward honored at the Michigan-MSU game on Oct. 20, but U-M athletic department officials have not yet indicated a willingness to do so.

    Ward was an incredible African-American student-athlete from Detroit Northwestern High School who starred in both football and track at U-M (he actually beat Ohio State’s great Jesse Owens twice in track matches). When Georgia Tech came to Ann Arbor for a football game on Oct. 20, 1934, the visiting Yellow Jackets said they would refuse to play the game if a black man were allowed to play. Michigan eventually agreed to bench Ward, their lone black player, barring him not only from the game, but also from the stadium. It remains the only time in U-M history that a player was benched because of his race.

    The decision caused a national uproar in 1934, and infuriated many of Ward’s teammates, including his best friend on the team – a tall lineman from Grand Rapids named Gerald Ford. Ward and Ford remained lifelong friends, and the incident had a profound impact on Ford’s politics, shaping his opinion on such things as civil rights and affirmative action as he moved from Congress to the White House.

    Ward went on to lead an amazing life, blazing trails at every turn. Upon graduation from U-M, he went to work for the Ford Motor Co. as the head of its ad hoc Civil Rights Division, serving as a liaison between black and white workers and reporting to Henry Ford himself. He later served in the U.S. Army during World War II and attended law school, becoming the first black chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission and the first black probate court judge in Wayne County. He died on Dec. 31, 1983, at the age of 71. This year is the 100th anniversary of his birth.

    “This is a well-deserved and long-overdue honor for Willis Ward, and we thank Sen. Schuitmaker for taking on this cause,” said Brian Kruger, who produced “Black and Blue” along with Buddy Moorehouse. “It’s a fitting tribute to a man who displayed such character, grace and dignity throughout his life. It’s heartwarming to know that Oct. 20 will be celebrated throughout Michigan as Willis Ward Day. It would be a shame, though, if Oct. 20 wasn’t also celebrated and observed that day at Michigan Stadium. Willis Ward was banned from Michigan Stadium on Oct. 20, so he should be welcomed back to Michigan Stadium on Oct. 20.”

    A trailer of “Black and Blue” is available here:

    The online petition to have Willis Ward honored at the Oct. 20 Michigan-MSU game is available here:

    Seventy eight years ago this fall the U-M campus was set ablaze.  Students and teachers held heated (heated as in objects and insults being hurled) debates/protests over the proper way to handle the Georgia Tech game.

    You know the story by now: The Jackets visited Ann Arbor but made it known well before the game that they would only play if Michigan’s African American end, Willis Ward, didn’t participate.  The saga, including background and the aftermath is documented in the documentary Black and Blue which you should own in your collection.

    The largest group, the United Ward Front, was a group of students and professors with a simple demand: Ward plays against Tech or the game should be cancelled.  They gathered over 1,500 signatures in support and led many of the protests (clip from the 1934 Michigan Daily to the left).

    Fast forward nearly 78 years.  The guys behind Black and Blue have a new petition —one urging U-M to honor Willis Ward on October 20, 2012.   You can sign on here:

    The are asking U-M to honor Ward on Saturday October 20, 2012 because this will be the 78th anniversary of the Georgia Tech game.   On top of that, Ward would have been 100 this year and the Michigan state legislature is already expected to declare that Saturday “Willis Ward Day” throughout Michigan.

    More details in the full press release:

    Online Petition Urges University of Michigan to Honor Willis Ward at MSU Game on Oct. 20 – the 78th Anniversary of the Day He Was Benched Against Georgia Tech Because of His Race

    ANN ARBOR, Michigan (August 27, 2012) – An online petition drive was launched today urging the University of Michigan to honor Willis Ward on Oct. 20, 2012 – the 78th anniversary of the day he was benched against Georgia Tech because of the color of his skin.

    Michigan hosts Michigan State that day – on the very same day, on the very same field where Ward was banned from playing back in 1934.

    The petition drive was announced by Brian Kruger and Buddy Moorehouse, producers of the 2011 Emmy-nominated documentary “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game.”

    They said the petition is in response to the reaction they’ve received from people who have seen the documentary or read about Willis Ward. The overwhelming sentiment, they said, is that U-M needs to honor Ward on the anniversary of the Georgia Tech game.

    “Willis Ward was barred from Michigan Stadium because of the color of his skin on Oct. 20, 1934,” Kruger said. “As it happens, Michigan has another home game this year on that same date – Oct. 20. He was banned from Michigan Stadium on Oct. 20, and everyone feels it makes sense that he be welcomed back to Michigan Stadium on Oct. 20. We’ve heard from hundreds of U-M fans and others who have all said the same thing, and we wanted to offer this petition as a way they could make their feelings known to Michigan.”

    The petition can be found at:

    Kruger and Moorehouse said they’ll be spreading the word about the petition through state and national media; via the many Alumni Association chapters that have seen the film; through Facebook, Twitter and other social media; through Michigan student groups; and through African-American and civil rights organizations in Michigan and nationally. They will also be encouraging petition supporters to make calls and send letters and e-mails to U-M officials in support of the cause.

    At the center of the story is a football game that took place 78 years ago. On Oct. 20, 1934, Michigan played Georgia Tech in Ann Arbor. One of the Wolverines’ best players that season was an African-American student from Detroit named Willis Ward. Jim Crow policies were a sad fact of life in those days, and Georgia Tech officials said they would refuse to play the game if Ward were allowed to play.

    Michigan eventually gave in to Georgia Tech’s demands and benched Ward, setting off a wave of protests across the campus. The Wolverines won the game, 9-2, but it was their only win in a miserable season. The Georgia Tech incident destroyed the team’s morale as the Wolverines finished with a 1-7 record – the worst record in school history.

    The incident remains the only time in Michigan’s proud history that an athlete was benched because of his race.

    Willis Ward’s story had been largely lost to history, but it came to light again in 2011, when “Black and Blue” was released. Since then, the documentary has been seen by thousands of people at screenings around the country – primarily by Michigan alumni and fans. The film has also gotten widespread attention on TV, radio and in newspapers across the state, and Kruger and Moorehouse recently penned an op-ed piece on the event that ran in the Detroit News.

    The documentary will also be airing on statewide TV on Oct. 21 (WGVU is airing at 7:30pm) this year.

    In March, Kruger and Moorehouse spoke before the University of Michigan Board of Regents, urging them to honor Ward in some way. The Regents agreed, instructing Athletic Director David Brandon to come up with a suitable way to honor him. As of yet, though, no announcement has been made by U-M as to how or if they intend to honor Willis Ward.

    Kruger and Moorehouse said it makes sense to honor Ward at the Michigan State game on Oct. 20 for the following reasons:

    • The anniversary of the game – Oct. 20 – actually falls on a home football Saturday this year. It will be another six years before Oct. 20 falls on a Saturday again, and there’s no guarantee that U-M will have a home game on Oct. 20, 2018. It doesn’t make sense to honor Willis Ward on any day other than Oct. 20.

    • Apart from anything his alma mater might be doing, Willis Ward will be celebrated and remembered throughout the state on Oct. 20 this year.

    • The Michigan Legislature will be declaring Oct. 20, 2012, as “Willis Ward Day” in the State of Michigan. The resolution is being introduced in September by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rep. Bill Rogers, and is expected to gain unanimous approval.

    • The documentary “Black and Blue” will be airing on statewide television on the weekend of Oct. 20.  (WGVU is airing at 7:30 October 21).  The PBS affiliates in Detroit and Grand Rapids have committed to airing the film that weekend, and it’s expected other PBS stations throughout the state will also pick it up.

    • This year is the 100th anniversary of Willis Ward’s birth. He was born on Dec. 28, 1912. Ward passed away in 1983, but what better present for his 100th birthday?

    “Everyone around the state will be learning about Willis Ward and talking about Willis Ward on Oct. 20 this year,” Kruger said. “In addition to the documentary airing on TV that weekend, it’s a good bet that every newspaper in the state and maybe even across the country will be running a story that day about the anniversary of the Georgia Tech game. We hope that the one institution that’s at the center of this story – the University of Michigan – agrees that it’s the right time to honor this amazing man.”



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    One of the great things about talking about Michigan football history is that I find often the story tends to evolve after the initial post, tweet or article.   The boys at Stunt3 Multimedia know this well, and here’s another example.  

    They’ve been showing the latest cut of their fine documentary Black and Blue around the country and talking to many folks along the way.  I recently interviewed director Brian Kruger from Stunt3 (check out the full interview in the next issue of GoBlueWolverine Mag) and he talked about a great discovery:

    “A few weeks ago a woman called me. She said her father was John Regeczi, who played on the teams with Gerald Ford and Willis Ward, those three years. She was very excited about that and she was telling me some stories.  After about ten minutes I figured the conversation would wind down, but then she said, ‘Oh, and by the way, we have the game ball.’ [laughs]   I was like, ‘What?!’.”

    Indeed it appears as thought the game ball to the controversial 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game exists.   Brian told me the owner, who lives in California, was kind enough to take a few pics of the ball and send them over to Kruger, who in turn relayed a couple to me.   Check it out:

    1934 Game Ball - Michigan Georgia Tech

    And I thought my ticket stub from the game was cool.  

    On top of it having the score, it appears to be signed by many of the players.  Is Ford’s signature on there?  How about Ward?  It’s tough to tell from the photos so Kruger is going to travel to California to get a better look.  I can’t wait to hear.

    Spreading the Story
    I’m obviously a big fan of what these guys are doing.  One of their initiatives is to get a copy of the documentary, along with supporting educational materials and teaching aids, into every school in Michigan. Stunt3 is currently looking for a donor (company or individual) to get a copy in every school in Washtenaw County.   Are you interested?  Shoot me a note, I’ll point you in the right direction.

    Related:  First Look: Black and Blue—Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Georgia Tech Game

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    I recently posted that a at screening of Black and Blue it was suggested that it’s high time for the university to formally honor Willis Ward:

    Near the conclusion of the Q&A session following the screening at the Alumni center, Moorehouse suggested that it’s time for the university to honor Ward in some way, and I agree.  And after all, as Moorehouse pointed out, the only memorial on campus (if you don’t count buildings or roads in parking lots) for former athletes is this plaque dedicated to Owens…a Buckeye!

    Well, there seems to be some momentum.

    At last week’s monthly meeting of the U-M Regents, the idea of honoring was presented to the regents.   As I understand it, an informal motion was approved to discuss the matter with the athletic department, with the hope of finding an “appropriate way” to honor Ward.

    Memo to Dave Brandon:  Do the right thing.  This is long overdue!

    [Ed. Update March 18].   Mary Morgan of the Ann Arbor Chronicle recapped the meeting including the activities around honoring Ward:

    Public Commentary: Willis Ward

    Three people spoke about Willis Ward, an African-American who played football for UM in the early 1930s. [For background on Ward, see John U. Bacon’s Chronicle column: "When Ward, Ford Played Ball for UM"]

    Buddy Moorehouse introduced himself as a 1982 UM graduate and a co-writer of the recent documentary ”Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game.” [Link to documentary’s trailer on YouTube] Moorehouse said he’d been a sports editor at the Michigan Daily, UM’s student newspaper, and thought he’d known everything about Michigan football. But until recently, he hadn’t known about Willis Ward. He described Ward’s experience on the team, including Ward’s friendship with teammate Jerry Ford and a controversial incident when UM’s head coach at the time, Fielding Yost, benched Ward in a game against Georgia Tech because of his race.

    Regent Martin Taylor said he’d been a personal friend of Willis Ward, and supported finding a way to honor the former UM athlete.

    Despite all that, Ward loved UM, Moorehouse said. Yet Ward hasn’t been honored because his story has been lost to time. This year would have been his 100th birthday, and it would be a good time for the university to figure out a way to recognize Ward, Moorehouse said. There is only one permanent memorial to a black athlete on UM’s campus – a plaque honoring Jesse Owens, mounted on a wall near the outdoor track. Owens set four world records at UM’s track in 1935, but there’s no memorial for Ward, who beat Owens twice.

    Brian Kruger, a co-writer and co-producer of the documentary, picked up the commentary. He told regents that the documentary has been screened all over the country, including at Detroit public schools. His goal is to screen the film at every school in Michigan. Kruger also said he hoped the documentary could be viewed by UM students – it might be a tool to start discussions related to issues that had been raised earlier during public commentary, he said.

    The last speaker was Genevieve Urbain, who told regents she was eight years old and a second grader from Brighton. She had watched the documentary about Ward and Ford. Urbain listed off several things that were named for others from that era, like the UM Ford School of Public Policy and Yost Ice Arena. She noted that Ward had beaten Jesse Owens – “an Ohio State drop-out” – yet Ward didn’t have anything named after him. She thought a building, street or monument should be named to honor him.

    Urbain said her mother graduated from UM, and that she’d like to attend as well – she’d be in the UM freshman class of 2022. “Go Blue!” Urbain concluded, “and remember Willis Ward.”

    Public Commentary: Willis Ward – Regents Respond

    A DVD of the documentary was distributed to regents. Martin Tayler said Ward had been a personal friend and a fraternity brother, a golfer and a “great all-around athlete.” Ward had been proudest of beating Jesse Owens, Taylor said, and it does seem like something could be done to honor him.

    Andy Richner agreed. Kathy White said she’d already watched the DVD and she encouraged others to watch it too. She also supported finding innovative ways to make the story meaningful for students at the university, as well as for schoolchildren in the state and nation.

    Taylor asked whether there was consensus among board members to direct Sally Churchill – UM’s vice president and secretary, who serves as the administration’s liaison to the regents – to take action. He proposed that Churchill talk with athletic director Dave Brandon to come up with recommendations about how to appropriately honor Ward. Other regents concurred.

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    willis_ward_trackWard clears the bar in 1933 – via a current eBay auction 

    It was a pleasure to attend the screening of Black and Blue at the Alumni Association building last Thursday.  

    imageA few moments during the film drew a verbal reaction from the crowd (including John U. Bacon’s hilarious description of Henry Ford’s henchman Harry Bennett) but none more poignant than the gasp when it was noted that Willis Ward once defeated the great Jesse Owens on the track. 

    In chatting with the writers it turns out that gasp has been a common reaction at recent screenings of the film.  Buddy Moorehouse of Stunt3 sent over some more specifics on Ward vs. Owens including this clip (left) from the March 3, 1935 Milwaukee Journal when the Michigan man took down the famous Buckeye star in 2 of 3 events, just a couple months before Owens’ famous day at Ferry Field. 

    In an email, Moorehouse provided additional details on their meetings:

    On March 2, 1935, Michigan hosted Ohio State in an indoor track meet in Ann Arbor. Owens and Ward raced three times – in the 60-yard dash, the 65-yard low hurdles, and the 65-yard high hurdles.  Ward beat him twice – in the 60-yard dash and 65-yard high hurdles.

    The winter and spring of 1935 was the only time Ward and Owens raced against each other. Owens was a sophomore (freshmen couldn’t compete back then) and Ward was a senior, so this was the only time they ever faced each other. Ward quit competing in the summer of 1935, because of what happened with Georgia Tech.

    During the outdoor season, Ward had an injured leg, so he wasn’t at his best. He and Owens only raced a couple times, and Owens won all of those times. On the day that Owens set the four world records in Ann Arbor – May 25, 1935 – Ward had to scratch from the long jump and all of the running races because of his bad leg But Ward did win the high jump that day.

    It would be interesting to know what would have happened during the outdoor season if Ward had been healthy. But Ward was healthy during the indoor season, and he beat Owens.

    The timing of Ward’s success on the track naturally makes folks to speculate on what would have happened if Ward participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics alongside Owens.  According to the Bentley, he participated in the U.S. Olympic trials but didn’t qualify, in part, according to Ward, because the 1934 Georgia Tech game crushed his competitive drive:

    In later interviews Ward said the [Georgia Tech game] left him disillusioned with sports and sapped his competitive spirit. He took part in the Olympic trials, but having lost the burning ambition to win, Ward, in his own words, did not train to his peak and failed to make the U.S. team.

    But I’m not sure he actually participated in the 1936 trials.  In this detailed account US Olympic trial history, the introduction to the 1936 trials actually mentions Ward and the Georgia Tech game incident(!), but only notes Ward’s 4th place finish in the 1932 trials in the high jump.  He’s not mentioned in any of the results or even heats in 1936.  Owens dominated.

    Near the conclusion of the Q&A session following the screening at the Alumni center, Moorehouse suggested that it’s time for the university to honor Ward in some way, and I agree.  And after all, as Moorehouse pointed out, the only memorial on campus (if you don’t count buildings or roads in parking lots) for former athletes is this plaque dedicated to Owens…a Buckeye!


    * Harry Kipke and the Fall of 1934
    * Jesse Owns and Gerald Ford (1934)
    * The Willis Ward Protests (1934)