Honoring Black History: “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar”


EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Imagine if your Dad was a part of one of the most monumental moments in the history of college football and growing up, you never knew it.

“For me, as my Father’s daughter, you know I grew up my whole life really up until Bubba Smith passed away, in 2011, not even knowing this full story,” said Maya Washington. “You know I knew my personal family story of my parents growing up during segregation, how different their life was from mine and my siblings, but I didn’t know the details. In terms of how my Dad got to Michigan State.”

Maya’s father is Gene Washington. The legendary Minnesota Vikings wide-receiver who was the 8th overall pick in the 1967 NFL draft and he played an instrumental role in helping Michigan State win back-to-back Big Ten titles during the 1965 and 1966 seasons. All of which may have never happened if it wasn’t for Smith.

“I wouldn’t be speaking to you,” said Washington. “I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’ve been able to do in this world if it weren’t for the gesture of Bubba Smith and his father Willie Ray Smith Sr. giving my Dad an opportunity. By suggesting that Duffy Daugherty take a look at my Dad. They were opponents. They went to opposing high schools. It’s the idea that things were that dire for African Americans in the South at that time.”

Duffy Daugherty didn’t know it back then but his approach to recruiting would forever change the sport of college football. He scouted the best Black football talent from the segregated South to build a powerhouse program.

“The impact, not just for my family but so many of the children and grandchildren, of these men who played for Duffy Daugherty are living the impact of that door opening,” said Washington. “Of having access to education is just something you can’t measure.”

Daugherty passed away in 1987 long before Washington even thought of making the documentary, but if he were still alive she would have this to say to the former Spartan football coach.

“I think I would first just say thank you,” said Washington. “You know I would thank him for whatever it was within him that allowed him to be innovative. To step outside of the box and sort of do what was uncommon, if not unpopular at the time.”

Washington refers to her documentary “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” as her ‘passion project’ and it’s easy to see why. It’s her way of showing her appreciation to her Dad, and his remaining teammates and coaches, before it’s too late.

“I do feel like Duffy Daugherty is quite aware of all the things I’ve been doing these past 10 years,” said Washington with a laugh. “It is dumfounding to think that, you know, him just kind of executing a strategy to get really talented players on his team who happen to be black, who happen to be from the segregated South, is really profound.”

Nowadays every college football team in the country is integrated, but back in the 1960’s no one had a fully integrated team other than Michigan State University.

It’s a part of history many Spartan fans don’t know about and it’s another reason why Washington felt compelled to dedicate a decade of her life to making the documentary – “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar.”

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