President Donald Trump referenced Henry Ford during a speech in late May at the Ford Motor Company plant in Michigan.
You may have read about President Donald Trump’s recent trip to a Ford Motor Company factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan. There, he gave some well-deserved praise for the company and its volunteer workers who made a very quick conversion from making auto parts to making sophisticated hospital equipment that was in short supply when COVID-19 struck America — ventilators.
Trump, however, also added a most controversial comment in reference to the Ford family: “The company, founded by a man named Henry Ford. Good bloodlines, good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you got good blood.”
Why are these remarks a big deal? Because they show a lack of historical knowledge and sensitivity.
The reasons for controversy began when Ford bought the Dearborn Independent in 1919. The Independent was published until 1927 when an abundance of lawsuits related to its anti-Semitism finally ended its publication. Ford claimed he had no control, or even awareness, of the Independent’s editorial processes. This is hard to believe, since Ford was known for controlling all aspects of his businesses, but it is a notion that is also hard to disprove.
Finally, Aaron Sapiro, a Jewish activist with Western farming cooperatives, brought the most famous case against Ford, which resulted in a Ford apology for anti-Semitic remarks and the closing of the Independent in 1927. Ironically, Ford commissioned Jewish lawyer Louis Marshall to write the apology for him.
During Ford’s ownership, the widely read Independent became famous as an anti-Semitic newspaper. Two examples from its pages amply demonstrate this point. On May 22, 1920, one day and 100 years prior to Trump’s visit to Michigan, the front page of the Independent featured the story “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.”
Two months later, on July 10, 1920, the newspaper published the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a debunked, forged propaganda hoax that promulgated the idea that Jews controlled world finance in order to control the world. Admired by Adolf Hitler, this bogus text is still promoted today by neo-Nazis and other assorted right-wing extremists.
A search in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History demonstrates that the Detroit Jewish Chronicle published reports and editorials about the anti-Semitism of the Independent. For example, read three headlines from the era: from the July 16, 1920 issue — “The Flivver King — Emperor of the Anti-Semites” (Ford was called the “Flivver King” in reference to the nickname for the famous Model T); from Oct. 15, 1920 — “Appearance of Ford’s Anti-Semitic Pamphlets Draw Fire of New York Rabbis — Insult to Public Opinion”; or from Feb. 16, 1921 — “Detroit Jews Unite in Hurling Challenge for Ford to Prove Charge [Ford claimed he was a victim].”
This is a very brief summary of a century-old issue. Hopefully, it provides a bit of evidence as to why Trump’s remarks were indeed a big deal.
It should be emphasized that since Henry Ford II took command of the company in 1945, the Ford family have been great friends to Detroit’s Jewish community. They have done much to atone for the anti-Semitism of the original Henry Ford. The bloodlines from Henry Ford II onward are indeed something the family can be proud of.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.