(Reuters) - Boston city officials on Thursday approved a change to the name of a short street outside the Fenway Park baseball stadium because it honors a former owner of the Boston Red Sox when the team lagged behind others in fielding black players.
The Boston Red Sox, under the ownership of Thomas Yawkey, were the last team in Major League Baseball to field a black player, in 1959, a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Boston’s Public Improvement Commission voted on Thursday to change Yawkey Way back to its original name, Jersey Street.
Boston joins cities across the United States, most in the South, that in the past few years have faced the issue of street names and statues that honor historic figures seen as racist.
“The spirit of Boston, I think, is being renewed to the city that I knew when I grew up in this area, as a very welcoming one,” Walter Carrington, 87, a former commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, told reporters.
The name change has been controversial in Boston since the current owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, proposed in 2017 removing Yawkey’s name from street signs. Yawkey’s defenders point to the charitable Yawkey Foundation, which has helped fund programs to help minority neighborhoods in Boston.
“I hope the Yawkey Foundation doesn’t get caught up in this because they do incredible work in Boston,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told WCVB-TV, a Boston ABC affiliate, on Thursday.
Yawkey owned the Red Sox from 1933 until his death in 1976. By the late 1960s, black players were Red Sox stars and non-white players have been central to the team’s three World Series championships since 2004.
A statement, posted before the vote, on the Yawkey Foundation website, said: “Tom and (wife) Jean Yawkey treated everyone alike. Through the Yawkey Foundations they left almost all of their wealth for people in need, regardless of their color.”
Fenway Park, at 4 Yawkey Way, is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use. It opened in 1912, two years before Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
Boston city officials did not make it clear on Thursday when the street signs will be changed. Property owners that abut Yawkey Way were unanimous in support of the name change, city officials said.
Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio