What’s In A Name? Ford Field
We know that Ford Field, the home to the NFL’s Detroit Lions is named for the Ford Motor Company.
Founded in 1903, the Ford Motor Company has been one of Detroit’s largest and most consistent employers for over a century.
But the name, of both the Ford Motor Company and Ford Field comes from one man, Henry Ford, and this is where the problem begins.
Henry Ford was not only a businessman; he was a antisemite and a racist.
He was an “inspiration” to Adolf Hitler…those are Hitler’s words, not mine.
In fact, Ford was the only American directly named by Hitler in Mein Kampf. Ford also earned praise and favourable mentions by top Nazi officials at the Nuremburg Tirals.
“If Henry Ford said that Jews were to blame, why, naturally we believed him,” top Nazi official Baldur von Schirach stated of Ford at the Nuremburg Tirals.
Hitler himself in an interview, praised the influence and impact Ford had in motivating genocide during the Holocaust, the Nazi’s attempt to eliminate Jewish people worldwide.
“You can tell Herr Ford that I am a great admirer of his. I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany. … I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” said Hitler.
Ford’s personal disdain for Jewish people extended to all reaches, including sport. Standing in front of Ford Field, you’ll stare directly at the home of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers. Ford saw problems in baseball, and he identified his hateful source.
“If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball they have it in three words—too much Jew,” Ford is quoted as saying.
Ford so hated Jewish people, that he purchased a newspaper in Detroit and began distributing anti-Semitic writing through the publication, which he later distributed at all Ford plants and dealerships across the country. His essays, “The International Jew,” which he published in his paper, The Dearborn Independent, blamed the Jewish population for all of America’s ills.
This paper, and his four part essay “The International Jew” was also distributed throughout Europe, and was influential to the leaders of the Nazi regime as they prepared for the Holocaust.
His anti-Semitism was so revered by the Nazi’s, that in 1938, Ford was awarded the “Grand Cross of the German Eagle.”
Ford’s hatred for others did not end there. Although he earned praise for hiring Black workers, Ford’s facilities upheld segregation, and his practices worked against equity.
As historian Bill McGraw stated, Ford produced many incredible vehicles, but “he was also a man who mass produced hate.”
When it comes to sport and movement, one of the ways Ford fought against Black culture was in his opposition to dancing; specifically, any form of dancing related to jazz, blues, or ragtime music…all popular in Detroit’s Black communities at the time. He targeted Black culture and simultaneously tied it to his hate of Jewish people.
In Ford’s own words, “Many people have wondered whence come the waves upon waves of musical slush that invade decent homes and set the young people of this generation imitating the drivel of morons. Popular music is a Jewish monopoly. Jazz is a Jewish creation. The mush, slush, the sly suggestion, the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes, are of Jewish origin.”
As discussed in my forthcoming book, On Account of Darkness: Shining Light on Race and Sport, “Ford worked to popularize square dancing across America as a wholesome option, in other words a white option, of dance to be enjoyed. Square dancing however, particularly the call-and-response dancing, was prevalent in slavery, as masters would call out dance moves for slaves to perform for their entertainment.”
Ford saw square dancing as a way to provide youth with “social training, courtesy, good citizenship, along with rhythm.” Because of this, he worked to, and successfully had square dancing introduced into school curriculum across the United States as a standard form of physical activity.
Yes, the Ford factories employed Black people, however this only became practice when the company saw an opportunity to profit from the labour of these workers, many who were escaping America’s Jim Crow south.
Which brings us back to Ford Field in Detroit.
On the field, predominantly Black rosters of professional football players compete weekly during the NFL season. Above them looms the Ford name, still profiting from the labour of others.
The Detroit Lions themselves have been controlled by the Ford family since 1963 when William Clay Ford Sr. took over majority ownership. Today, his wife, Martha Firestone Ford, is still the principal owner and chairperson of the Detroit Lions at age 96.
Why is this important now? The Ford Motor Company purchased the naming rights for Ford Field for 20 years, an agreement which came to be in 2002.
That means an opportunity to remove the honour of a racist and noted anti-Semite, who has been called an inspiration for the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi’s and Adolf Hitler, exists in the immediate future.
What’s in a name? In the case of Ford Field, it’s a history of technological and industrial innovation, but more importantly, it’s a history of oppression and hate. It’s a history that right now, is celebrated blindly in sport, including on the home stadium of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Ford Field.
By Ian Kennedy
Ian Kennedy is a writer from Chatham-Kent, Ontario. His upcoming book, published by British Columbia’s Tidewater Press, “On Account of Darkness: Shining Light on Race and Sport” will be published in the spring of 2022. Ian is the founder of the Chatham-Kent Sports Network, and his writings are regularly found in print in the Chatham Voice, and on air with 99.1 CKXS.