Opinion | Fired Dearborn editor on why Henry Ford bigotry story matters

Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic views had a wide audience 100 years ago, and are enjoying a renaissance today on extremist websites. Bill McGraw, a former Bridge Magazine reporter, writes about why it’s important to remember the past.

Editor’s note: This column was printed in the issue of The Dearborn Historian that Mayor John O’Reilly last week ordered scrapped because it contained a report on Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism that O’Reilly said would hurt the city’s efforts at inclusion. The column has not been published elsewhere. It was written by Bill McGraw, the Historian’s part-time editor whose contract with the city of Dearborn was terminated after O’Reilly killed the issue.

McGraw wrote the column to explain to readers why the quarterly magazine was addressing the subject. In the past few days, media around the world have reported on O’Reilly’s decision and tens of thousands of people have read the original story. The magazine normally goes to libraries and some 230 museum members.

With its growing African-American community, a large Middle-Eastern population and immigrants from a variety of countries, Dearborn is growing increasingly diverse. The Dearborn of today is almost unimaginable from, say, the Dearborn of 1980.

Related: Henry Ford and the Jews: the story Dearborn didn’t want told

Such diversity is reflected in the public officials who represent all or large parts of the city: State Sen. Sylvia Santana is an African-American woman. State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud and Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun are Arab Americans. Mayor John O’Reilly is a white man and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell is a white woman.

It’s a varied cast of characters, and a reflection of an evolving America in which women and minorities are increasingly visible in public life. The trend is further illustrated by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, from next door in Detroit, a person well known in Dearborn and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Her 13th Congressional District is next to Dingell’s 12th District.

The emergence of minorities taking their rightful place has come with a price, and part of that price is fear of demographic change among some white Americans and a nationalistic backlash around the world. And a big part of that backlash is a rise in anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League recorded a 57-percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year — including assaults, vandalism, bomb threats and anti-Semitic literature on college campuses.

In 2017, neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and one anti-Nazi protester died. In October, a gunman killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. “Growing Anti-Semitism Stuns American Jews,” read a headline in the New York Times.

That brings us to Henry Ford.

In this issue, The Dearborn Historian carries a special report on Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism. I wrote it. It’s not a happy story.  

The magazine is running the report because of the current climate of anti-Semitism and because January marks the 100th anniversary of Ford buying the Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper, the platform for his attacks. We’re also publishing the report because we believe local history publications should strive to tell the whole truth about our past, no matter how unpleasant, and connect local events to what’s happening in the greater world.

While many people know vaguely that Ford had anti-Semitic beliefs, I think it’s fair to say most people have no idea that, as the article details, his anti-Semitic publishing effort was so vast in scope and had such a powerful impact, or that his publications from the 1920s are enjoying a renaissance today among extremist websites and online forums.

In general, metro Detroit and its institutions tend to treat Ford gently when it comes to his dark sides. But historians and other experts have delved into Ford’s anti-Jewish campaign and published books and articles, and my story seeks to pull together the important findings of their research.

We’ve also provided a guide so readers can do their own reading. It should start, ironically, in the excellent Ford Collection of Dearborn’s Henry Ford Centennial Library. Among many other things, the collection carries a number of books and other media that contain information on the Dearborn Independent and “The International Jew,” the books Ford published that were collections of the paper’s anti-Semitic articles.

The Dearborn library approaches this dark side of Ford in an honest manner. On another sensitive subject, the city’s longtime mayor, Orville Hubbard, Dearborn in general has become more open to dealing with his segregationist side in recent years. City hall gradually downgraded the prominence of Hubbard’s statue and the Dearborn Historical Commission and The Dearborn Historian (under previous editor David Good) explored the issue forthrightly.

Re-examining dreadful corners of institutional histories has become a trend over the past two decades. Numerous banks, insurance companies, Ivy League colleges, media outlets, cities and religious denominations have studied their actions during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow, published their findings and, in some cases, issued apologies. The city of East Lansing apologized last year for the way it treated black citizens for much of the 20th Century. Proponents of such transparency believe it contributes to racial healing.

Henry Ford is legendary in his native Dearborn and around the world for good reasons, as the article makes clear. His legacy continues to loom large in the lives of residents of metro Detroit.

But his anti-Semitism is much more than a personal failing. Ford’s attacks on Jews were distributed around the world before and after World War II and, alarmingly, they influence budding neo-Nazis today. It’s a subject worth talking about in Dearborn.

Let the discussion begin.

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Kevin Grand
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 7:10am

Question and a comment for Mr. Mc Graw: Why did you use the quote, "The Jew is a race that has no civilization to point to, no aspiring religion, no great achievement in any realm," when Henry Ford wasn't actually quoted as saying it?

I'm familiar with much of what you had written pertaining to that part in Henry Ford's life, but to imply that quote came directly from him, on the cover no less, didn't exactly help the story.

And if you're really concerned about Antisemitism, you might want to turn your focus on one Rashida Tlaib along with her colleagues in Congress. Dearborn would be proud.

Henry Ford doesn't hold a candle compared to them.


Thu, 02/07/2019 - 8:42am

Because to pretend, as many would apparently like, that Ford had nothing to do with the quote would be fatuous. It is not attributed directly to Ford. It is clearly noted that it appeared in the newspaper he owned, written by someone he hired, paid and approved of. Read the story; it's abundantly clear that Ford was deeply involved with the Independent's direction and content.

Judith Gardner
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:32am

Furthermore, Rashida is not an anti Semite because she opposes Israeli domination and oppression of Palestinians. To call her that only exposes the writer’s Islamaphobia.

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 10:29am

Her support of BDS is not the basis of accusations of anti-Semitism; It's her ties with Abbas Hamideh, a supporter of Hezbollah. American Jews are divided about BDS, but never Hezbollah.

Peter Schwartz
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 10:18pm

Israel isn't dominating or tormenting any 'palestinians'. Fabricating stories of Jews tormenting gentiles and then trying to hide behind it by calling others 'islamophobes' is a chief characteristic of modern leftwing antisemitism.

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:33am

So in spite of this and 100's or 1000s of years of persecution before this, Jews are one of if not the most successful genetic group there is. What is the lesson(s) we can learn?

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 2:26pm

'One of the most succesful genetic groups'

There's that race science we all know and love, completely divorcing material and historic factors in favor of biologic essentialism

Sun, 02/10/2019 - 8:57pm

Bones maybe that explains your pathetic lack of success in life too?

Kevin Grand
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 5:53pm

Re-read my comment above. I never said that he didn't, Ivy.

What is known regarding Henry Ford's past actions speak clearly for themselves without any need to mislead readers about something that he didn't actually say.

You damage the credibility of the rest of your reporting when you do that.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 5:46pm

So, I see. For brevity, I only included only one link just to save time this morning.

But, when you cannot address the message to attack the messenger.

Using your own "logic" these guys don't count either?




And we all know how much of a leading hate organization the ADL is, don't we now, Ms. Barnett?

OABTW, I've got more links.

Dot Potter Barnett
Fri, 02/08/2019 - 9:15am

NY Post: Right-Center Bias
Times of Israel: Left-Center Bias
ADL: Left-Center Bias
Thank you for the additional links. Apparently it bothers both of us to see only one side.

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 2:20pm

The Washington Examiner? Come on man, at least put a little effort into not looking like the obvious partisan hack you are.

Mike H
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:21am

Only from the past can we understand the future. There are dark sides to the great innovators of the past century. Henry Ford as well as others such as Thomas Edison and others of that time had a dark side on how they conducted themselves. Those were certainly different times, but the sad part is that there are those that would latch onto anti-Semitic views even today. Only through understanding and acknowledging the ugliness of our history can we as a people move forward. While Ford was a great man, he was just that, a man with fallacies and misguided beliefs.

Dick scott
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 1:51pm

Agree reviewing past and Lindbergh and followers helps us understand the present The Roan consuls carried Branches wrapped around an ax. And last centuries Italian consul wanted to drain the swamp

John Duerr
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:46am

Mr. McGraw's article is relevant to today's world not only from the perspective of race relations and antisemitism, but for what it says about independence of the press and freedom of speech. The article illustrates how a rich and powerful person can abuse the independence of the press and have for himself an inordinate voice in the public forum.

Bishop James A....
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 12:20pm

i read the article yesterday. I found it fascinating and informative. As an African-American cleric who has lived in Detroit my entire life and grew up hearing stories about "Hubbard's Dearborn" and the difficulties Blacks had getting through Dearborn to work in Ford's factories, I was shocked to discover this side of Henry Ford, a local and international icon. The truth be told, the portrait of the history of our nation is regrettably dotted with black marks of the personal failings of publicly successful people. Ford is no exception. However, you are right that his antisemitism is still fueling nationalistic ignorance today, and so, the story needs to be told. Great job!

John S.
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 9:16pm

Mayor O'Reilly should reconsider and reverse the decision to halt the distribution of the paper. Elected public officials often invent post-hoc rationalizations to justify their poor decisions. Well, people get angry, get upset, and take actions without a lot of thought that they later regret. A resident of Dearborn, I expect better of the Mayor.

Stephen B Roth
Sun, 02/10/2019 - 10:29pm

Having grown up in Midland I have an outsiders view of Dearborn, my wife’s birthplace. Reading of the mayor’s action has soiled that view quite thoroughly.

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 10:19am

No offense to you and your great "discovery," but it's hardly shocking that anyone before 1980 held a racist ideology. We could write a similar story on the Founding Father's of our nation. To me, and a lot of others, your story is nothing more than an attention grab. So a man in the early 1900's was racist? "Shrug." To the people of the time, it was not racism, so your story holds no relevance. If he were alive and sending the same message in our current era, then we'd have something to talk about.

Peter Eckstein
Sun, 02/10/2019 - 10:50am

The point of Bill Mc Graw's article was NOT that Ford shared the anti-Semitic biases of many members of his generation (including one of my grandfathers). Lots of people shunned Jews, told anti-Semitic jokes, and otherwise shared their views within their circles of friends. What Ford did was to put his vast wealth and prestige behind a massive and false propaganda campaign in 90 or so articles in his newspaper, which Ford dealers were required to distribute, and which he later combined in a book that was translated into many languages, including German. It inspired Hitler and drew many people into his rising Nazi movement, the success of which led to the wartime deaths of about 20 million people, including 6 million who were methodically exterminated. Causation in history is often difficult to prove, but there is at least a plausible case for a straight line between Dearborn and Dachau.

CB Rock
Fri, 02/08/2019 - 2:05pm

Once again because of censorship by one individual, and public reaction to it, the information has spread widely into the main stream and a healthy, robust discussion of Henry Ford’s history thrives. Mayor O’Reilly has succeeded in diminishing himself while educating the greater population. Historical figures were humans and therefore not perfect. Mr. McGraw should be reinstated. He was doing what a good journalist does—presenting facts to broaden the story.

Paul Jordan
Tue, 02/12/2019 - 3:52pm

Since Arabs, Kurds, and other ethnicities originating in the Middle East are also considered to be "semites", wouldn't it be wise to retire "antisemite" as a synonym of 'anti-Jewish'?

Brenda Burack
Sun, 02/09/2020 - 8:32pm

Currently, a Dearborn citizen is proposing to market Henry Ford’s image on the Dearborn City logo to tourists and interested local citizens. I researched Mr. Ford and was aware of his Nazi support. I learned that he was a major bankroller of the Nazi Party in the 1920’s when they had few donors. Due to his funding, this Party was able to grow & thrive. Fortunately, City Council is against the proposal.