Commission To Vote On Yawkey Way Name Change April 11

yawkey way

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

BOSTON (WBZ-AM) -- The Boston Public Improvement Commission will decide April 11 whether or not to change the name of Yawkey Way.

The commission heard testimony at City Hall Thursday morning from those for and against the change, which was proposed by the Boston Red Sox due to former owner Tom Yawkey's legacy regarding race.

At times, Thursday's hearing got emotional, with competing views of Yawkey being shared.

John Harrington, Chairman of the charitable Yawkey Foundation, said that renaming the street named after his old friend would be "slanderous."

"A small street sign is the only honor by which the Red Sox commemorate a legacy whose impact cannot be measured," Harrington said. "With all my heart and soul, I ask you to perpetuate that legacy."

On the other side, the former head of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination Walter Carrington described Yawkey as a "bigot."

"It is a disgrace," Carrington said. "It is something that, every time I or any black go into Fenway Park is an insult to see Yawkey Way--just as, when I was working for the Federal Goverment, when I would go to Virginia and have to go over Robert E. Lee Highway or other roads named after Confederate soldiers and others."

"The Confederate statue here in Massachusetts is Yawkey Way," he added.

State Rep. Byron Rushing also spoke in favor of changing the name of the street.

The hearing came two weeks after an earlier hearing on a petition by the Boston Red Sox to change the name.

Current team owner John Henry has said in the past that he is "haunted" by Yawkey's racism--under Yawkey's leadership, the Red Sox were the last major-league team to field a black player--and proposed a change back to the street's original Jersey Street name. 

There are also concerns over what the name change might mean for the Yawkey Foundation.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that a letter sent to the Public Improvement Commission from the president of the Jackie Robinson Foundation praised the Yawkey Foundation's work--and there have been arguments that changing the name of the street would taint the legacy of the Yawkey Foundation and their charitable mission.

In a statement a month ago, the Red Sox said, "It is important to separate the unfortunate and undeniable history of the Red Sox with regards to race and integration from the incredible work the Yawkey Foundation has accomplished in this millennium and over the last 16 years."

City Councilman Tito Jackson also spoke in favor of the Yawkey Foundation, and said their work should not be conflated with the man himself.

"It muddies this conversation and deliberation to bring in the work that the Yawkey Foundation--which was constructed after [his] death and also continues to do this work--with the man Tom Yawkey," he said.

During Thursday's hearing, a member of the Urban League described the awkwardness of that aspect of the Yawkey Way name-changing debate pitting the Red Sox against the Yawkey Foundation.

"I feel like a child witnessing parents going through a nasty divorce," they said.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Carl Stevens reports

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