In honor of Black History Month, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and Grand Rapids Community Foundation are premiering the film “Black and Blue” in Grand Rapids, Ford’s hometown, on February 13. The documentary is a touching story of a lifelong friendship developed in the face of racial discrimination between Ford and University of Michigan football teammate Willis Ward, an African American.
In 1934, the University of Michigan was scheduled to play Georgia Tech in football. Due to Jim Crow laws, Georgia Tech refused to play with any African American players on the field, leading U of M to sit out their star, Ward. These actions lead to pre-game protest from students, faculty and specifically Gerald Ford. Ford decided to take a stand against the injustice and not play in the game, but eventually by the request of Ward, Ford took the field without his friend.
Ford stood up against racial discrimination long before the Civil Rights movement began and created a friendship deep ingrained in honor and respect. The friendship has lasted beyond the grave, as both men’s families still feel the power of their bond. When the placement of Ford’s statue was being considered at the US Capitol, Ward’s family came to honor and support Ford. Ward’s grandson, former State Senator, Buzz Thomas, spoke on Ford’s behalf. Their efforts helped to get the statue approved.
Film producers, Brian Kruger and Buddy Moorehouse, want Ward’s story to be told, to highlight the discrimination he faced at U of M that seemed to have been buried in history. Ward is the only U of M football player to have been benched for his race and they want to give him the recognition he deserves.
“President Ford’s place in history has been taken care of,” says Kruger, “Ward deserves a spot too, and we hope to get him that.”
“Ford and Ward show that skin color doesn’t matter, you just gotta take care of one another,” Kruger said. “I think that is an important message of true character that people and students need to see.”
Kruger’s goal is to bring the documentary into every public school in Michigan to reach as many youth and teens as possible. He is currently raising funds for this effort.
Comerica Bank is sponsoring a special showing of the film for eighth grade students from Harrison Park School and Gerald R. Ford Middle School on February 13.
The public is invited to a free showing of “Black and Blue” and Q & A with the filmmaker Kruger and Thomas at 7pm on February 13, at the Ford Museum, 303 Pearl Street in Grand Rapids.