Yawkey Way is no more. The city's Public Improvement Commission voted Thursday to change the name of the iconic street that closes on game days at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox had petitioned for the change because of the troubled racial legacy of the team's former owner, Tom Yawkey. Yawkey owned the Sox for more than four decades. Under his ownership, the team was the last in the major leagues to integrate.
The Sox did give Jackie Robinson a tryout in 1945, two years before he broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the Sox declined to sign him or any other black player for more than a decade. Robinson considered that tryout a sham, and called Yawkey the most racist man in professional baseball.
The team's petition follows a season in which two racist incidents in the Fenway stands received attention, including ugly taunts directed at Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones. They said they wanted to make sure Fenway Park is welcoming to all fans.
The proposal sparked strong feelings on both sides of the debate, and passionate arguments at two public hearings. Some there called Yawkey a racist and said that legacy shouldn't be honored. Others defended Tom Yawkey — especially leadership of the Yawkey Foundations and many people from charities the foundations have supported. They argued that he wasn't the racist he's being described as, and the change unfairly taint the Yawkey name going forward.
Walter Carrington, who investigated the team's racism in the late 1950s on behalf of Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, has been one of the most vocal supporters of changing the name.
“I, and others like me, can go to Fenway Park feeling very proud of the Red Sox today and the city of Boston, which we love so much,” Carrington said after the vote.
The Yawkey Foundations released a written statement saying they're deeply disappointed, and that the decision was based on a false narrative about Yawkey's life.
“Tom Yawkey deserved to have his name live on at Fenway Park. 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,” the statement read. The foundation said they will continue to carry on the mission of Tom and Jean Yawkey.
Carrington said he doesn’t believe the decision in any way taints the name or work of the Yawkey Foundations.
“You have the Ford Foundation, whose benefactor was a notorious anti-Semite, a notorious fan of Adolf Hitler. Publicly, Henry Ford did this. That has not tainted the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation didn’t go out trying to have a campaign to sanitize the name.”
The MBTA confirmed Thursday that they will change the name of the Yawkey commuter rail station, since it's named after the street.
But several organizations with facilities named after Yawkey, including WGBH, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Museum of Science and Boston University, say the name comes as a result of support from the foundation, and there’s no plan to change them.
The street will change back to its original name of Jersey Street, which is named after the Earl of Jersey. Earlier this week, WGBH's Curiosity Desk spoke with William Villiers, the 10th and current Earl of Jersey, who was unaware with his family's connection with the street. After the commission voted to restore that connection Thursday, the Earl of Yawkey tweeted, "Hi @RedSox, new fan here!"