Adrian Walker

What comes next after the renaming of Yawkey Way?

Jersey Street signs replaced Yawkey Way ones last week in front of Fenway Park.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Jersey Street signs replaced Yawkey Way ones last week in front of Fenway Park.

The Yawkey Way signs outside Fenway Park came down last week — removed at the crack of dawn, like when they take down Confederate statues in the South.

The Yawkey commuter rail station nearby will eventually get a new name, too.

The Yawkey Foundation has reportedly asked for the street signs bearing the names of its benefactors. Not content with that act of petulance, its leaders have also requested the plaques of Tom and Jean Yawkey that hang inside Fenway Park. The foundation has also threatened to move its philanthropy outside the city limits, in an apparent effort to punish Mayor Martin J. Walsh for not stopping the renaming.


In essence, the foundation says it will pick up its ball and go home.

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Throughout the controversy, Walsh seemed like a man caught in the middle — neither for it nor against it. In recent weeks, he has been doing his best to keep the Yawkey Foundation from making good on its threats to take its money outside Boston.

He pretty much admitted as much in an interview on WCVB’s “On The Record” program Sunday morning. He argued that he doesn’t believe it will play out that way.

“There should be no carry-over by the Yawkey Foundation in any way,” Walsh said. He said there are hurt feelings, but he believes they will eventually be set aside. That’s far from clear.

I won’t pretend to comprehend what this defeat feels like for stewards of the Yawkey legacy. But walking away from some of the foundation’s most important accomplishments would be a tragic response to changing the name of (part of) a city street.


For proponents — I was prominent among them — renaming Yawkey Way was an important step that ends the city’s tacit endorsement of the deeply troubled racial history of one of its signature institutions. Opponents have argued that the renaming unfairly tarnished the name of significant philanthropists, and that the whole thing is a just a “symbolic gesture.”

That debate may never be settled. But now is the time for the two sides — which both claim to care about race in Boston — to find common ground about where to go from here.

My feelings about the Yawkey Way name have been stated more than once. I initially called for the name to be removed in late 2015, and have revisited the subject on several occasions, including during the Globe Spotlight Team’s series on race last December.

But, of course, the real force behind the renaming was the Boston Red Sox — specifically, principal owner John W. Henry (also the owner/publisher of the Globe). Once the team put its organizational muscle behind the idea last summer, it immediately went from an interesting idea to one that was likely to happen. It is now called Jersey Street, its original name.

Opponents of renaming the street stress that the Yawkey Foundation has done good throughout the city. That’s beyond dispute. Much of that philanthropy was done long after the death of Tom Yawkey in 1977, but that doesn’t diminish its impact.


The foundation has maintained that the name has been irreparably tarnished, going so far as to argue that other organizations will be under pressure to remove the Yawkey name. The evidence for that pressure is scant at best.

The move to rename Yawkey Way was always about the team’s history as the last Major League team to integrate. It was never about the foundation, or its philanthropy. It does great work for a broad spectrum of people who need it, honoring the Yawkey name in the process. Punishing the people in Boston who benefit from that help would dishonor the foundation’s mission.

Renaming Yawkey Way is part of a necessary coming to terms with the role race has played in this city. The Yawkey Foundation could play a vital role in that process. That would be one of the best things ever done in Tom Yawkey’s name.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.