The late Gerald Ford, former president of the United States, was honored earlier this month with a statue in “Statuary Hall” in the United States House of Representatives.
Ford served most of his political career as a congressman from Michigan. There was some controversy about putting Ford’s statue in the hall because each state is only allowed two statues; Michigan already had its two.
Zachary Chandler, abolitionist and former secretary of the interior, would have to be moved back to Michigan if Ford’s statue was installed.
But years before Gerald Ford had befriended the only African-American on his 1934 Michigan football team. Willis Ward’s grandson, now a Michigan state senator, made a compelling case for Ford’s inclusion based on Ford’s support of and friendship with his grandfather. The story he told was one of friendship and courage.
In 1934, when Michigan was about to play Georgia Tech, the Georgia Tech team notified them that if Willis Ward played, they would not.
Ford was offended at this, and wrote his father that he was going to take a stand and sit out the game if Michigan benched his friend.
However, Ward went to Ford, who was the captain of Michigan’s team, and persuaded him to play. That year, Michigan lost all but one of its games. The only game they won was when they played Georgia Tech.
Ford went on to serve his country in the United States Congress. He was chosen by President Richard Nixon as his replacement for the disgraced vice president Spiro Agnew.
When Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, Ford became president. In office, Ford continued his support for civil rights legislation. Ford would later lose his own election for the presidency to Gov. Jimmy Carter.
Ford’s character was evident as a Michigan football player. And it is that character that led him to pardon Nixon when Ford assumed the presidency.
His compassion and concern for both the nation and for Nixon resulted in the end of “our long national nightmare,” as Ford phrased it.
Gerald Ford, a peace friend, is now honored by our nation because he stood up to fear and hatred.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.