New film follows trailblazing black football players under segregation

Former Viking star Gene Washington is the subject of a new film which premiered at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Festival Sunday night, but it was his daughter Maya—the film's director—who ended up stealing the spotlight. 

"Through the Banks of the Red Cedar" explores the history of college football at the peak of segregation, following Gene Washington and other players' journeys from the deep south to a Michigan State program that built a national championship team in the 1960s by actively recruiting African-American players. 

Coach Duffy Daugherty was the mastermind behind the school's success, and is credited with shifting the conversation for many involved with college athletics. 

"He actually created a pipeline from the segregated south to Michigan State," Maya Washington said. "This was really innovative and unique. No other coaches were doing that and so the numbers you saw on his team--23 black players, 11 starters, a black quarterback--this was really eye opening and a huge shift in college football."

The University of Minnesota also led the way a few years earlier with several high-profile black recruits like Sammy Stevens and Bobby Bell, as well as Vikings legend Carl Eller, who also makes an appearance in the film.

All in all, Maya and the rest of those involved with "Through the Banks of the Red Cedar" hope to illuminate a part of history that may not be widely known, and thank those who paved the way for players of color in the modern era. 

"My dad’s generation, they couldn’t speak out too loudly," Maya said. "They had to speak through their actions on the field and who they were in the community, and I think it’s great that players today get to do both."