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Spartan football helped dad escape Jim Crow

May 18, 2016

When you see a college football team run out onto the field, it's hard to remember that not so long ago, few, if any, of those young players would be black. 

A powerful documentary from filmmaker Maya Washington tells the story of when and how that changed. 

Through the Banks of the Red Cedar shows us the way Michigan State University coach Duffy Daugherty confronted racism on the football field by bringing young black players from the South to East Lansing. 

Among those young players was wide receiver Gene Washington. He was a key part of the first fully integrated football team in America. He's in the College Football Hall of Fame, honored as one of the 50 Greatest Vikings for his pro career, and much more. He's also Maya's father.

"I sort of had this fantasy that these magical white men came down and found him and plucked him out of Jim Crow."

Maya tells us that for most of her life, her father was just "dad," and she didn't think too much about his past.

"I knew my dad came from the segregated South, I knew he went to Michigan State, but I had no understanding of how that took place. I sort of had this fantasy that these magical white men came down and found him and plucked him out of Jim Crow," Maya says with a laugh. 

Listen to Maya tell us about when she started to realize the larger role her father played in sports history:

Through the Banks of the Red Cedar is currently in post-production. You can learn more by visiting the film's website or by watching the trailer below.

In our full interview below, Maya and Gene Washington tell us more about the film, Gene's experience moving from the South to a desegregated North, and how the two have grown closer as father and daughter through this project.