The two-block-long street just outside of Fenway Park will henceforth be known as Jersey Street after the Boston Public Improvement Commission voted unanimously to approve a proposal by Red Sox ownership to change the street’s name from Yawkey Way. Red Sox owner John Henry announced his plan to change the name last August, when he told the Boston Herald that he was “haunted” by the racist legacy of former owner Tom Yawkey. Henry’s announcement came a few months after Adam Jones was taunted with racial slurs from a Red Sox fan.
“The undeniable and regrettable history of the Red Sox make it difficult to continue to give prominence to a symbol associated with an era marred by racial discrimination,” Red Sox attorney David Friedman said at a recent hearing. Yawkey, after whom the street was named in 1977, owned the Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, and was the last owner to sign a black player as baseball began integrating during the 40's and 50's.
Yawkey’s Red Sox actually held Jackie Robinson’s first major-league tryout in 1945, though it was a sham, and Yawkey reportedly yelled “Get those niggers off the field!” Robinson later said that Yawkey was “the biggest bigot in professional baseball.” It took the Red Sox until 1959 to sign a black player, 12 years after Robinson debuted with the Dodgers.
The Yawkey Foundations released a statement decrying the name change and pointing towards the Foundation’s charitable contributions (via NPR):
The Yawkey Foundations, which advocated keeping the name, called Thursday a “sad day” and said the effort to change the name “has been based on a false narrative about his life.”
“Tom Yawkey deserved to have his name live on at Fenway Park,” a statement from the Yawkey Foundations read. “We can’t change today’s decision, but we remain hopeful that he will be remembered as the good and decent man he truly was.”
Philanthropist or not, Yawkey’s legacy is tied to the Red Sox’s organizational racism when baseball was being integrated, and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said that was why the name had to be changed:
“So, I guess John felt now was the time to send a message. It’s one symbol. I don’t think there’s an indictment of any one person. It’s a recognition of the past that is shameful with respect to us being the last team to integrate.”