byMark Pratt Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) -- Boston officials April 26 approved changing the name of Yawkey Way, the street outside Fenway Park, after allegations that former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey was a racist who resisted signing black ballplayers in the 1940s and '50s.
The city's Public Improvement Commission unanimously approved a proposal by current Red Sox ownership to call the stretch of road Jersey Street, which it was originally named before being changed in 1977 to honor Yawkey the year after his death.
"The spirit of Boston is being renewed," said Walter Carrington, 87, a former member of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination who investigated the Red Sox organization in 1959.
The vote drew immediate condemnation from the Yawkey Foundation, the charity named for Yawkey and his wife, Jean.
"As we have said throughout this process, the effort to expunge Tom Yawkey's name has been based on a false narrative about his life and his historic 43-year ownership of the Red Sox," the organization said.
"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."
The Red Sox filed a petition with the commission in February and said that restoring the Jersey Street name is intended to reinforce that Fenway Park is "inclusive and welcoming to all."
Under Yawkey, who owned the club from 1933-76, the Red Sox was the last team in the major leagues to cross the color barrier. Pumpsie Green became its first black player in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers.
Prior to that, the team chose not to sign several prominent black players, including Robinson and Willie Mays.
The Yawkey Foundations acknowledged that in its statement, but said that what Yawkey and the foundation have done far outweighs the negative, including the more than $300 million the foundation has provided to organizations throughout the city.
"We have always acknowledged that it is regrettable that the Red Sox were the last Major League baseball team to integrate," the statement said.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, several prominent Bostonians, including Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, Emmanuel College President Sister Janet Eisner, Philanthropist Jack Connors, Businessman John Fish, and Catholic Charities President Debbie Rambo had joined with the Yawkey Foundation in calling on Boston's Public Improvement Commission to keep the name Yawkey Way, citing the charitable works of the foundation.
The debate over Yawkey Way was part of the larger national debate over markers, memorials and statues that are now perceived as racist or incompatible with modern sensibilities. Dozens of monuments to the Confederacy have been removed in the past year.
The Public Improvement Commission noted that other businesses on the street had unanimously approved of the name change.
It was not clear when the street signs would be changed.
Pilot staff contributed to this story.