By Sam Tarr
With a unanimous vote and 100 percent of adjoining neighbors endorsing the Boston Red Sox’s petition, Yawkey Way will officially be renamed its original name, Jersey Street.
The Boston Public Improvement Commission (BPIC) came to the final decision quickly on Thursday, with only one additional public comment. However, that abrupt ending was not representative of the contentious nature of the debate. The Red Sox petition was fiercely opposed by organizations linked to the Red Sox former owner Tom Yawkey and the Yawkey Foundation.
One of the city’s largest fundraisers, businessman Jack Connors, opposed the change. The Connors Family Office funded a full-page ad in the Boston Globe featuring a list of organizations that the Yawkey Foundation has given to over the years with the headline, “Giveth. Taketh?” with a picture of the green Yawkey Way sign.
“Tom and Jean Yawkey’s incredible philanthropic legacy has made a significant impact across the City of Boston, a city they loved and called home for more than six decades as owners of the Boston Red Sox,” the ad said.
The ad then said that “legacy” includes more than $300 million in grants to city organizations, including $137 million to the city’s poorest communities.
State Rep. Russel E. Holmes, D-Boston, spoke at the final hearing. He said it was appropriate for him to speak because he represents “essentially, the blackest district in the state.” Holmes voiced his offense at the ad ran by the Connors Family Office, saying that he and many of his constituents viewed it as confrontational.
“It sends really a message of old-school politics. It really sends a message of arrogance. It really sends a message around what I would say is white privilege in the city,” Holmes said.
“‘You should shut up.’ That’s how I hear it, that’s how I see it, that’s how I read it,” Holmes said.
Yawkey owned the Sox for 43 years until his death in 1976 and has become a polarizing figure. For many, Yawkey has become a symbol of the team’s racist past. Many view, including the current ownership that that history cannot be dismissed by the philanthropic work of the Yawkey Foundation.
The Sox, under Yawkey’s ownership, were the last team in Major League Baseball to field a black player. When Pumpsie Green made his debut with the Sox in 1959, the color barrier has already been broken for a full 12 years, with Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947.
Up until that point, Yawkey remained opposed to integration of baseball. He was one of the owners who sat on the Major League Steering Committee. The committee consisted of a group of MLB owners who compiled a report released in 1946 arguing that baseball should remain segregated.
“We recognize we have a long way to go,” the Red Sox said in a statement, Thursday, “but remain committed to building a spirit of diversity, inclusivity, and openness within our front office and our ballpark.”
The Red Sox organization called the decision “an important step in our ongoing effort to make Fenway Park a place where everyone feels welcome.” Sox owner, John Henry, who filed the petition to change the name in February, said it was important that the name be changed as he considered the street where Sox fans gather in the pregame hours the “front door” of the ballpark.
As to when the big green Yawkey Way signs will be replaced, city officials haven’t made clear.