Yawkey Way Is No More – Who is Next?

Who is next?  When the PC Police, embodied as John Henry, asked the Boston Public Improvement Commission to change a street name because he has been “uncomfortable” with the Yawkey Way street sign outside his office window, then who isYawkey Way next?  When we start applying the morals (and I used that term loosely) of today to our own history then no one is in the clear.  Not Tom Yawkey, not George Washington, not Peter Faneuil, not Arthur Fiedler, not John Singleton Copley of Copley Square fame and I would bet every soybean dollar of John Henry’s family farms not his own family either.  Who wants that magnifying glass on their father, grandfather or even their own soul?  John Henry, do you?

Yawkey Way and John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park

So Henry is “uncomfortable” with Yawkey Way being Yawkey Way because Tom Yawkey was a racist?  Was he?  I don’t know because I did not know Tom Yawkey.  Then again, neither did John Henry.  I do know he was the owner who integrated last in the major leagues and had few non-white employees.  Let’s just assume that a man born in 1903 probably did have certain opinions about people of any color.  Why?  Because that was pretty much the norm of the day when Tom Yawkey lived.  Segregation was the norm.  Not mixing of the races was the norm.  Not wanting to mix the races was the norm.  Court ordered forced busing in Boston, to deal with the city’s continued segregation in its public schools, did not happen until 1974. Tom Yawkey died in 1976.  Tom Yawkey was loved in this city not because he may have held opinions that today we find “uncomfortable” but because we would not have the Boston Red Sox as a team if Tom Yawkey was not the owner.  He devoted himself and his finances to the Red Sox – in an era when no one wanted the team.  As a bequest in his will, he also established the Yawkey Foundation whose philanthropy goes beyond words.  They did not just give money to “white people” causes, by the way.  Ever think that maybe, just maybe, Tom Yawkey did what we hope all of us do in life?  Maybe just maybe he grew as a person.  Maybe the man of 1956 was not the man of 1976.  Maybe that is why he was mourned by this city.  But before John Henry’s PC Police minions start jumping up and down, I ask, what makes Tom Yawkey so special to John Henry’s PC Police?  Let us take a look at a few other Boston iconic names and places and see how they stand up.

If you walk from Park Street to Fenway, you probably walk through the Public Garden and pass the statue of George Washington, father of our Country.  Well in 2018 you can walk in the Public Garden, the first public botanical garden, but it was fenced for a reason, to keep the commoners out – they were over in the Boston Common, not the pristine Public Garden.  Anyway, even if we are somehow okay with that sectionalism, there is the George Washington statue, our first President riding a horse, as a great welcoming to Boston.  It was unveiled in 1869. A little irony there since the Civil War had ended four years earlier and well, George Washington was a major slave owner in Virginia.  He and his wife Martha owned hundreds of slaves.  Hundreds.  So as father of our country, do we hold him to the standards of today too, and tear down the statue like the hundreds of Lenin statues in Russia?  There is a fallen monument park in Moscow where the statues of hundreds of felled Soviet statues and busts now reside. Maybe John Henry can ask Boston to set aside a piece of the Common, or even better maybe Henry can donate a portion of his own land in Brookline, where we can place all of the felled Bostonian monuments?  We can call it John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park.

From Yawkey Way to Copley Square

Speaking of slave-owners, let’s talk about Peter Faneuil.  He both owned and traded slaves.  The money he made as a successful merchant, including of human cargo, paid for Faneuil Hall which he donated to the city of Boston.  As the National Park Service website states, ‘there is some irony to be found in its nickname however, because a portion of the money used to fund ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ came directly from the profits of the slave trade.”  So again, do we now refer to Faneuil Hall as, say, Old Boston Towne Market, because we need to suppress any history that makes us “uncomfortable”.  John Henry, are you on the Old Boston Towne Market name change bandwagon too?

Now Arthur Fiedler is synonymous with the 4th of July.  He brought music to the people, literally, which is why the footbridge and statue near the Hatch Shell is named after him.  He was like all of our grandfathers wrapped into one – a loving man who loved the people.  Fiedler gave us the Pops with its popular, traditional and classical music.  Yet his daughter wrote that he was a terrible father, who drank too much and who caused “wreckage” in their family.  Do we believe her every word?  Do we now see Fiedler as less of a Bostonian because his personal life was not as successful as his professional life?  Do we expect him to be perfect in order for him to be remembered fondly?  If so then we have another statue for John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park.

Closer on any walk to Fenway, will bring you to Copley Square.  The square is named for John Singleton Copley, renowned artist.  His square is next to the John Hancock building, which is also a bit ironic since Copley hated Hancock.  You see Copley was a Loyalist, who abhorred the Thirteen Colonies push for independence, also known as the American Revolution — so much so, that Copley sailed from Boston to England in 1774 and never returned.  Copley considered himself British.  Would have loved to have heard Sam Adams sitting in a pub in Colonial Boston verbally brandishing Copley as a traitor to the cause.  So do we now change the name of Copley Square back to the original name of Art Square because Copley never wanted America to be its own independent nation?  Do we ignore his talents as a premier artist, especially his portrait paintings of our Founding Fathers? John Henry, do we remove Copley’s name too to the Fallen Bostonian Park?

How This For Uncomfortable, John Henry?

This all began because John Henry was “uncomfortable” seeing the Yawkey Way street sign out his office window.  I wonder how Henry would fare if the microscope was placed on his life and business interests where every comment and decision is scrutinized ad nauseam.  We could begin by examining Henry’s great grandfather who emigrated from Londonderry, Northern Ireland and farmed in the slave state of Arkansas in the mid-1800s.  In addition, we could look at Henry’s grandfather and father’s soybean business in Arkansas and Illinois and see exactly how many people of color were employed.  We could even evaluate John Henry’s tenure with the Marlins and Red Sox and count the number of African-American, Hispanic, women and LGBTQ workers he had in high paying positions as Chairman and Owner.  No one wants that kind of spotlight, where the complete picture of someone’s life can so easily be lost.

The Yawkey Way sign being removed does not change racism or bring comfort to Boston or anywhere else.  History is not about comfort.  And our history as a city is not easy.  Yet we cannot learn from the past by whitewashing it away from public view like George Orwell in 1984, or because people are “uncomfortable”.  Errors and transgressions are part of our processes, it is how we learn and get better as people.  No human being would pass the perfection test, especially if we start placing the moral compass of today on times gone by.  If that is how we look at our city’s history, then each and every one of us would be relegated to John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park. Imagine how “uncomfortable” John Henry would be then.

This article was written by Maura Porter, Editor in Chief, Yawkey Way Report

The Red Sox Fumbled In Their Push To Rename Yawkey Way

The City of Boston announced last Thursday that Yawkey Way will revert back to its original name, Jersey Street. Debate over renaming Yawkey Way has raged for years over allegations that former owner Tom Yawkey was a racist. Despite successfully petitioning the city to rename the street, the Red Sox fumbled in their push to rename Yawkey Way

From a public relations perspective, I can understand current team owner John Henry’s concerns.red sox fumbled  We’re living in a time where Confederate statues are coming down throughout the south because of the ideas they symbolize. Fearing a similar backlash, Henry likely worried about what might happen if he didn’t take an official position on Yawkey. But Yawkey Way is different from a Confederate statue. The Confederate soldiers memorialized in statues throughout the south openly rebelled against the United States. Most of them supported slavery. In most cases it makes sense to take them down (unless they’re in a cemetery, that’s a different context). Failing to recognize the difference between a statue and a street sign though clearly reflects how the Red Sox fumbled this issue.

The Red Sox Relied on Falsities

The Red Sox fumbled their reasoning on this issue for a few reasons. They relied on ambiguous perceptions about Yawkey’s alleged racism, much of which has since been debunked. For example, one of the many stories about Yawkey stems from Jackie Robinson’s tryout at Fenway Park in 1945. Clif Keane, a sportswriter for The Boston Globe, claimed that either Yawkey, Joe Cronin, or Eddie Collins yelled “Get those niggers off the field!” during the tryout. Red Sox historian Glenn Stout disputes that story. “A lot of people don’t give that [story] the greatest credibility,” Stout’s quoted as saying in Bill Nowlin’s biography of Tom Yawkey. In fact, Boston Globe writer John Powers stated in 2014 that Keane might have made it up.

This isn’t to say that Yawkey was an angel. Yawkey presided over the Red Sox when they became the last team to integrate in 1959. Pinky Higgins, the Red Sox manager from 1955-1959, and 1960-1962, was vocal about his views on African Americans. In his book, What’s the Matter with the Red Sox? Boston baseball writer Al Hirshberg quoted Higgins as saying, “There’ll be no niggers on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it.” Higgins certainly played a role in the Red Sox reluctance to integrate. As the team owner, Yawkey was responsible for retaining Higgins as an employee for as long as he did. John Henry should have cited that idea in pushing for the name change. In fact, I’m going to take the liberty of drafting the press release they should have written.

This Statement Should Have Been the Red Sox’s Official Press Release

Tom Yawkey presided over the Boston Red Sox during a time of tremendous growth. The personal and financial contributions he made helped transform the team into one of the best in baseball history. His kindness, generosity, and devotion to the Red Sox and the City of Boston will always be remembered and respected. However, Yawkey also presided over the Red Sox during a time when Major League Baseball was working towards becoming more inclusive and diverse. The lack of progress the Red Sox made towards equal rights during Yawkey’s tenure weighs heavily on John Henry and other members of the Red Sox community. While Yawkey’s role in the history of the City of Boston and the Red Sox will always be held in high esteem, his reluctance to be more proactive on matters of race contradict the Red Sox’s current mission to promote diversity and inclusion. As a result, the Red Sox formally request that the City of Boston change the name of Yawkey Way back to its original designation of Jersey Street. This gesture should show the City of Boston that the Red Sox are dedicated to making Fenway Park a welcoming environment for all.

This statement acknowledges Yawkey’s contributions to the team and the city while also recognizing his faults. Yawkey didn’t recognize the cancerous effect Pinky Higgins had on the Red Sox. That’s his fault. But simply put, the crime doesn’t fit the punishment.

The Red Sox Fumbled a Chance to Preserve Relations with the Yawkey Foundations

In response to the name change, The Yawkey Foundations stated that, “The drastic step of renaming the street, now officially sanctioned by the city of Boston (and contradicting the honor the city bestowed upon Tom Yawkey over 40 years ago), will unfortunately give lasting credence to that narrative and unfairly tarnish his name.” It’s difficult to imagine that the Red Sox didn’t consider what effect their push to rename Yawkey Way would have on the Yawkey Foundations. The Red Sox’s decision to push for the name change effectively makes the Yawkey Foundations guilty by association.

The Red Sox fumbled the entire Yawkey Way controversy. They relied on a false narrative that many historians wouldn’t give much credibility to (and don’t). What makes their error particularly egregious is how undiplomatic their efforts to rename Yawkey Way were. The Red Sox embarrassed themselves by using unreliable information about Yawkey. More importantly though, their failure to recognize Yawkey’s contributions and failures turned this controversy into a binary issue. There’s already too much divide in America. The way the Red Sox fumbled this issue only adds to that divide.

Book Review of Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox

Rumors about Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s racism have persisted for years. Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1933 until his death in 1976, owned the last team to integrate in 1959. Critics point out how the team declined to sign Jackie Robinson following a tryout at Fenway in 1945. Journalists and historians tell different stories about the tryout itself. Author Bill Nowlin explores these stories, along with all the other aspects of Yawkey’s life, in his biography Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox.

During an August 2017 interview, Nowlin told me that “…in all my research I never foundTom Yawkey any hard evidence – no ‘smoking gun’ – to indicate that Tom Yawkey himself was personally racist.” In fact, Nowlin mentions that sportswriter Clif Keane may have fabricated the story about the racial epithet altogether. Nowlin, however, does not completely exonerate Yawkey. “…on 24 hours’ notice [Yawkey] could have ensured the Red Sox had an African American ballplayer. The facts show that the team was institutionally racist up until at least 1959.”

Dick Johnson of the Sports Museum of New England, who is quoted throughout the book, concurs. “It was stupidity and bad management…It was only years afterward when Neil Mahoney and Dick O’Connell and Ed Kenney and the really good, intelligent, colorblind (for the most part) staffers they had were allowed to have a say and to have a little bit of control over things [that things changed].”

These themes, as well as other aspects of Yawkey’s life, are meticulously detailed in Nowlin’s biography of a complex man.

Nowlin’s Biography Gives Tom Yawkey His Day In Court

While Nowlin goes into great detail about how Yawkey is remember today, he doesn’t make it the focal point. Norlin gives his readers a complete and thorough narrative about who Yawkey was as an owner and a person. Norlin describes a man who went to great lengths to take care of others, including members of the opposing team. This vivid description gives readers all the information they need to make their own judgement call about the man.

The tremendous attention to detail throughout the entire book makes it difficult to second guess Nowlin’s scholarship. Nowlin relies on previous research that he painstakingly cites, while providing a fresh and insightful story of his own. The accounts and perspectives he was able to extract through personal interviews are the highlight of the biography. Readers will also appreciate Nowlin’s exploration of what happened to the Red Sox in the years following Yawkey’s death. His detailed account of the post-Yawkey years suggest that the impact he had on the team, and the City of Boston, was so great that it’s impossible to end the book with his death.

There are only a handful of other writers who rival Nowlin’s contributions to the history of the Red Sox. His biography of Tom Yawkey solidifies that accolade, while providing baseball fans and scholars alike with a first-rate biography of a misunderstood man.

Let’s Just Go Ahead and Demolish Fenway Park

I have to start this piece by clarifying that I’m not really arguing that Fenway Park should be demolished. This is a satirical piece. But so many of you threw a fit after I wrote this piece that I don’t have a choice. Now, given the Red Sox concern about Tom Yawkey’s legacy, they should just go ahead and demolish Fenway Park. Why settle on a simple street name change? After all, Yawkey is arguably responsible for Fenway Park being the great place it is today. So let’s just erase it!

Yawkey bought the Red Sox in 1933 after inheriting $40 million from a rich uncle. Hedemolish fenway park immediately began work on renovating Fenway Park. Before his purchase, Fenway Park was a dump. Part of the park had burned down in 1926. It hadn’t even been that well maintained since it opened in 1912. Yawkey’s renovations included better seating (much of which still exists today). It also included the construction of what we know as the Green Monster wall. If it wasn’t for Yawkey, Fenway Park would have fallen into disrepair and eventually condemned. But since he was such a racist, maybe the Red Sox should just demolish Fenway Park to make sure they’ve done enough to distance itself from him.

Demolish Fenway Park And Build A New Racist-Free Ballpark!

The Red Sox could do what Patriots did and build a new stadium out in the middle of nowhere. That way they won’t have to risk seeing Yawkey’s name on anything nearby. Fans won’t have to walk past the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care. They won’t have to take the train to Yawkey Station. The Red Sox could better control how much exposure the fans will have to the charities sponsored by the Yawkey family. Think about it! A new stadium means the Red Sox can erase their past and start new!

Okay that’s enough. I think you get my point. Listen, in no way am I defending Yawkey’s decision to be the last team to integrate. That’s a burden Yawkey’s legacy will have to endure forever. But while Yawkey could have done so much more to secure his legacy than just throwing money at charities, renaming Yawkey Way isn’t a step in the right direction. I’m struggling to understand the team’s motive here. Why do they want to change the street’s name now? If John Henry and Sam Kennedy are this concerned about Yawkey’s legacy, why did they wait until now to do something about it? Confederate monuments are coming down because they’re a lightning rod for white supremacy. That’s a legitimate reason and I fully support it. But what’s the team’s reason for changing Yawkey Way now? Is it a pre-emptive measure to keep protestors away before they can form?

What Will Renaming Yawkey Way Change?

Changing the street’s name won’t change history. If anything, it only drudges up old and painful memories, among other things. It puts the charities named after Yawkey in a very awkward position, which could jeopardize their missions. Furthermore, can one really argue that Yawkey Way is the same as a monument commemorating leaders who led a rebellion against the United States in an effort to preserve slavery? Perhaps we should look at Yawkey and use him as an example of what happens when someone doesn’t pay attention to social issues.

Continue to hold Yawkey’s legacy accountable, but don’t pretend everything will be okay if the city changes the street name. Instead of erasing something that wasn’t intended to evoke racism, look to it as a life lesson.

Sam Kennedy Leading Efforts To Rename Yawkey Way

The Boston Red Sox announced in August that they wanted Yawkey Way renamed. Their concern stems from a racist legacy left in the wake of Tom Yawkey’s ownership. As of today, a Boston Red Sox-themed Instagram page titled “bostonstrong_34” with a following of over 91,000 users posted that Red Sox President Sam Kennedy confirmed the team’s efforts to eventually change the street name. With Sam Kennedy leading the efforts to rename Yawkey Way, it’s clear that this change could come sooner than later.

In a book coming out on Yawkey titled Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox,sam kennedy leading author Bill Nowlin explores the man that very few know or understand. In an article published by prosportsdaily.com, Nowlin stated that “I never once found any evidence that Yawkey was personally racist. Nor did interviews with several dozen Sox players, including Pumpsie Green and Reggie Smith, turn up any such a suggestion. I looked for a smoking gun, and couldn’t find one.” That doesn’t mean he was without flaws. In an e-mail message to me, Nowlin elaborated, “He owned 100% of the team, and on 24 hours’ notice he could have ensured the Red Sox had an African American ballplayer. The facts show that the team was institutionally racist up until at least 1959 – though it’s also only fair to note that so was every newspaper in Boston, and many other institutions as well.”

I recently discussed this topic in an earlier post. I wrote that the Yawkey Way name should stay in place. While Tom Yawkey owned the Red Sox when they became the last team to integrate, I don’t believe Yawkey himself was a true racist. Of course, this does not excuse him from any blame or responsibility for the team’s legacy under his ownership. While Tom Yawkey wasn’t exactly a Civil Rights Leader, he wasn’t a racist. So while Yawkey bears the responsibility for the team’s racist history during his tenure as owner, it’s difficult to place him at the same level as the KKK as many are insinuating. With Sam Kennedy leading the charge on this move, I am disappointed because I don’t think he thought about this idea very thoroughly at all.

Sam Kennedy Leading A Dishonest And Very Flawed Effort

Yawkey wasn’t perfect; far from it. But he was also a very generous man who didn’t collect on loans he gave to his players, both black and white. To me, this suggests that he may have evolved in his views on race for the better.

To rename Yawkey Way is to suggest that people can’t change. What’s the point of educating others about the dangers of bigotry if we don’t recognize the effect it has? Do we continue to call someone a racist even if they eventually changed their views? What do the stories about how generous Yawkey was towards players say about him? It certainly doesn’t excuse him from any responsibility regarding the team’s stance on integration before 1959. But it’s also not a good excuse to rename Yawkey Way.

Kennedy wants to rename Yawkey Way for the wrong reasons. He wants a scapegoat that he thinks will alleviate the focus on the Red Sox messy record on integration. He is also exploiting a very serious issue in America. He’s trying to make the team look like they care about combating bigotry in America. While I don’t doubt his sincerity, I feel he would have made this move years ago if he felt this way.

Keep Yawkey Way So We Don’t Forget His Mistakes

Calls to tear down Confederate monuments are making headlines throughout the United States. Violence in Charlottesville has brought attention to our nation’s history that leave many divided. Personally, I think most of them should come down and be placed in museums. Racists erected them to intimidate African Americans, and they represent nothing but treason and oppression. Calls to rename other parks and streets that bare the names of ambiguous persons of history echo those same demands. One of those demands includes renaming Yawkey Way. While I think Confederate monuments should come down, I think they should keep Yawkey Way the way it is.

Yawkey Way was named after Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox from 1933keep yawkey way to 1976. Many remember Yawkey as a racist. During his reign, the Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate when Pumpsie Green took the field in 1959. Before then, the Red Sox had chances to sign players like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Sam Jethroe, all Rookies of the Year. Additionally, he employed Mike “Pinky” Higgins, a manager who made no effort to keep his distain for African Americans a secret. Higgins is the primary reason why the Red Sox didn’t integrate for years. Yawkey not only kept Higgins around, but he even promoted him through the years. Unlike owners like Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck, Yawkey chose to play along with the rest of the owners in baseball and drag their feet before integrating their teams. That will always be a part of his reputation and deservedly so.

Keep Yawkey Way So We Don’t Forget, and Repeat, The Past

Going back to my introduction, Confederate monuments need to come down because they represent a time in our nation’s history when traitors tried to tear this country apart. For many years after the war ended, its sympathizers tried to retain the honor of the south by erecting monuments, partly so they could continue terrorizing and intimidating African Americans who they’d oppressed for years. Many of these Confederate monuments were built specifically and deliberately to push back against integration and Civil Rights. That’s why they now need to come down. In fact, Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, discouraged monuments. He thought they “keep open the sores of war” (Boy was he right).

Was Yawkey Way given its name for the same reasons? Of course not. Yawkey Way was named to honor Tom Yawkey, not to intimidate African Americans from coming to Fenway Park.

Keep Yawkey Way To Hold Yawkey’s Legacy Responsible

Yawkey Way bares the name of an owner responsible for modernizing Fenway Park. He played an important role in the history of the Red Sox and in baseball. Many ballplayers, black and white, remember him as being a very generous and approachable man. Deep down, he probably didn’t harbor racist sentiments as intense as Higgins’. However, he’s still responsible for that racist legacy. He could have done what Rickey and Veeck did and integrate the Red Sox before any other team. But he didn’t.

So instead of letting Yawkey and the Red Sox off the hook, the team needs to keep Yawkey Way. Of course, the current ownership doesn’t hold the same views Yawkey did, but they chose to buy the team and its dark legacy comes with that. They don’t get to “erase” that. It would also enable people to forget about the terrible mistakes Tom Yawkey made. Instead of erasing that history, the Red Sox should use this opportunity not only to remember a dark past, but take efforts to ensure they don’t go down similar paths.

Keep Yawkey Way To Ensure We Don’t Forget

There is no easy solution here. People will remain angry no matter what’s done. But let’s keep things in perspective here. This publication, which also bears the Yawkey name, looks to a future that includes equality and opportunity for everyone. To rename the street would jeopardize those efforts to craft a better future. Personally, I write for Yawkey Way Report because I want to help create a future with more equal opportunities so that everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. have a chance to thrive, whether it’s in baseball or in other aspects of life. Renaming Yawkey Way would indirectly disrupt those efforts because those involved would have to start from scratch to associate itself with a new title. That takes time, and frankly, I don’t see how that’s a better approach. That’s like tearing down an entire house just because the kitchen is unstable.

So instead of looking at Yawkey Way as a symbol of racism, look to it as a symbol of change. Tom Yawkey, while he could have done much more, tried to change his views for the better. Does that excuse his behavior? No. But renaming a street isn’t a zero sum solution and it never will be. We need to take the good with the bad. We can remember Tom Yawkey as an innovative owner while also holding his legacy responsible for its reprehensible actions. To change the name of Yawkey Way would be to erase and rewrite a history that, despite its darkness, is important to remember so we do not repeat it.