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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Group of Black MSU Players Helped Desegregate College Football in 1960s

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Image credit: Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

The documentary “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” debuts this weekend as part of the Freep Film Festival.

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Gene Washington (left) with Maya Washington (right)Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Gene Washington (left) with Maya Washington (right)

Now in its fifth year, the Freep Film Festival is underway. This year, 75 events will happen at 15 venues around the metro area.

The festival is heavy in documentary films and specializes in movies that are about Detroit or created by local filmmakers.

One of the films, “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” makes its debut on Saturday, April 14th at the Detroit Film Theatre

The movie tells the story of MSU standout and former NFL receiver Gene Washington and explores how young southern black athletes broke the color barrier in college sports.

Washington’s daughter, Maya Washington, is the filmmaker who brought this story to the big screen.

Maya and Gene Washington speak with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson about the movie and the role Michigan State football played in ending segregation during the 1960’s.  

Maya, who wasn’t aware of her father’s prowess as a football player, says that Banks is a father-daughter story. 

What you’ll see is my attempting to connect to my dad through football and in that process learning about this amazing history and what happened at Michigan State,” Maya says. 

Gene, who grew up in segregated Texas, was one of several African-American players from the south recruited by MSU’s coach Duffy Daugherty. This led to one of the most dominant periods in MSU football history. 

All of that was happening at a time when Dr. Martin Luther King was doing the non violent protests,” Gene says. “There was a lot of things going on in the country. But I’m so proud that Michigan State gave us that opportunity.”

While all of this was happening, we were able to complete our education. And I think that’s the most important thing to me.”

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.


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