Daughter of former Minnesota Viking shares struggles of Black athletes in 1960s in new film

Jessica Miles
Updated: December 16, 2020 02:43 PM
Created: December 15, 2020 05:02 PM

For Minnesota filmaker Maya Washington, 'Through the Banks of the Red Cedar' is not only a deeply important film.

 It's also deeply personal.

"This has really given me an opportunity to get to know my dad and his past history, and that in and of itself has been such a gift," Washington said.

It was the 1960s and former Minnesota Viking Gene Washington was growing up in the deeply segreated south.

A stand out athlete, Washington was recruited to Michigan State University, where he played football and became part of the first fully integrated college football team in the country.

"Civil rights legislation was happening, our country was changing and my dad and his teammates really were that last bastion of hope and progress that pushed the game forward," Washington shared.

Her father went on to win two national titles with the Spartans. He is a college football hall of famer.

Drafted by Minnesota in 1967, he's considered to be one of the 50 greatest vikings.

"Sometimes we're living history and we don’t even realize it," she said.

Her film shares the profound struggles her father and other Black athletes faced in the 1960s.

"It’s just meant the world to share this important history that no one had really heard of before," Washington said.

The film was completed in 2018. She started showing it at fiilm festivals, however, she says it has taken on new significance in 2020 with the death of George Floyd.

"It’s really personal and hard not to acknowledge that the inspiration for the film came after an African-American man passed away, Bubba Smith, who inspired this film, and now the national interest has been sparked because another African-American male has passed away," she shared.

She hopes the film leaves people wanting to learn more about not only family, but each other.

"It is just grace that we have had the chance to share this story that really belongs to so many people and I want people to realize that history is in their own home and we need to be grounded in history if we’re going to move forward in ways that I think most of us are hoping," Washington said.

Adding, "I really hope people are inspired to find those magical and important stories in your own life and take the time to learn about who you are, who your neighbors are, and maybe step outside what do you, what you expect history to show you, and embrace it."
"Through the Banks of the Red Cedar" will make its national debut on the Big Ten Network on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m. CST, and on Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. CST.


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