Thank you to the folks from WCCO for bringing this story to our attention.
Many of our old school fans likely recognize the name of Gene Washington. Washington was one of the Vikings’ three first round picks in the 1967 NFL Draft (along with his Michigan State teammate, running back Clinton Jones, and a defensive lineman from Notre Dame you may have heard of named Alan Page). As a part of that Michigan State team, Washington and Jones played a big role into the widespread integration of college football, because many of the colleges in their home states wouldn’t accept African-American athletes in their football programs.
“All the Southern players, we were outcasts from our own states,” said former Michigan State wide receiver Gene Washington, a native of La Porte, Texas. “All of the states where we were from, they would not take black athletes. We bonded at Michigan State because we all had similar stories. We could make a contribution. That was very important to us. We didn’t talk about that all the time, but we knew we had something to prove, and this is our opportunity.”
That class wound up winning two college football National Championships for the Spartans and produced numerous NFL Draft picks, including Washington, Jones, and Bubba Smith (who went on to star in the Police Academy movies after his career in the NFL). In fact, the 1967 NFL Draft featured African-American players from that Michigan State squad as the #1 (Smith), #2 (Jones), #5 (linebacker George Webster), and #8 (Washington) overall selections.
Now, Gene Washington’s daughter Maya has documented her father’s journey from high school to Michigan State and on to the NFL in a documentary entitled Through the Banks of the Red Cedar. The movie was shown at the recent Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, and hopefully will be moving on to some sort of wider release here in the future.
You can see a trailer for the movie below.
Maya Washington both directed and produced Through the Banks of the Red Cedar, and the movie really helped her to strengthen her connection with her father, as she really didn’t know much about her father’s football career prior to putting the film together.
“It’s such a blessing. Had my dad in my life, my whole life, so that’s a blessing to have a dad. but I really didn’t know anything about his football career before this process. So it’s been really cool to connect over football and spend time together that we never had a chance before in this unique way,” Maya said.
Thus far, from everything I can find, the film has only been shown at film festivals and things of that nature. When the film does have some sort of wider release, we’ll be sure to let everyone know about it here. I know that for fans like myself, given that the time that the movie documents was well over a decade before I was even born, this film would probably be very enlightening and give people knowledge about an era that I really don’t know a whole lot about.
Kudos to Maya Washington for making this film and for bringing this particular subject to light, as well as highlighting her father’s football career.