Metro, Column

What’s In a Name as We Reconsider Yawkey Way

Sons must not be punished for the sins of their fathers, but sometimes history asks for more than just silent rejection of their fathers’ values.

The first seven months of President Donald Trump’s administration have brought racial tensions to a breaking point. Make no mistake, the cavernous divide among people of this nation lies at the epicenter of everyday life, threatening the very values on which this country stands. An already weakened national identity took another hit mere weeks ago as thousands of alt-right sympathizers held “freedom of speech” protests in several major cities, with many furthering their white supremacist agenda—even Boston was no exception.

While these rallies were overwhelmingly condemned by members of both major political parties, members of the public were left asking for more. Officials in several states argued for the removal of controversial public monuments of members of the Confederacy, according to The New York Times. Removal of historical monuments such as these have always been controversial. Supporters of the removal say that these monuments glorify individuals who stood for the perpetuation of slavery in the South, while those opposing the action cite that these individuals played a critical part in US history, regardless of how the modern world views that role.

Last week, these calls reached Boston as Red Sox owner John W. Henry told the Boston Herald that the organization was looking to rename Yawkey Way, the iconic street next to Fenway Park. He mentioned that he was “haunted” by former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s racist legacy, where he kept African Americans from playing in the team until 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Red Sox were the last MLB team to integrate.

The proposal is complicated to say the least. Not only is the street almost synonymous with the organization and its historic ballpark, but also it’s a public street, funded by the city. Moreover, there is also the issue of the Yawkey Trust which has provided funding for several projects around the city, including the Yawkey Athletic Center here at Boston College.

Critics of the move have asked whether such a name change actually solves the issue of racism in the country, while also questioning how far people would go, as many past historical figures, including most of the founding fathers, held views that today would be considered controversial at best.

I personally see this move as long overdue. Last year, I wrote a column in response to the protests that took place at the University of Missouri, as well as Amherst College’s decision to remove “Lord Jeff” as its mascot. There I argued that the country was fed up with the system in place and was beginning to take action to change it, while also acknowledging that public opinion had shifted, shown by the fact that Amherst College was even considering the move.

Since then, things have not progressed as I hoped. A vision of unity and hope turned into a reality peppered with intolerance and fear. It is not about re-writing or erasing history, it never has been. As George Santayana said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

It’s time to acknowledge the victims of a system that inherently placed minorities in an inferior standing in society, instead of glorifying those who perpetuated said system.

Renaming Yawkey Way will not solve the issues of the country and the city. It will not make up for the institutional racism present in the area, and it certainly will not cover up Yawkey’s discriminatory agenda as an owner—just how it won’t taint the great work of the Yawkey Trust.

Hell, it won’t even solve those within Fenway Park itself, where Adam Jones, an African American player from the Baltimore Orioles, was subjected to racial slurs and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him.

But it sends a message.

A message that shows that the City of Boston, and those of us that live in it, will not stand for racism or any sort discrimination. That it we will no longer turn a blind eye to the issues right in front of us. While we still have much work to do, taking this course of action acknowledges the issue, brings light to the Sox’s own hate-filled history, and with a head held high says “no more.”

The future of the city is, always has been, and will remain in our hands, now more than ever. What will we do with it?


Photo By Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff

September 6, 2017