John Henry says Red Sox to ‘lead the effort’ to rename Yawkey Way, ‘haunted’ by former owner’s racist past

“We ought to be able to lead the effort and if others in the community favor a change, we would welcome it."

A view of Yawkey Way in 2014.
A view of Yawkey Way in 2014. –Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki

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Red Sox owner John Henry wants to change the name of Yawkey Way.

The street right outside Fenway Park, named for the longtime owner of the team, Tom Yawkey, is a controversial subject because of  Yawkey’s racist past. Henry, in an email to the Boston Herald, said that he is in favor of changing the name and is “haunted” by the racist connotations.

Henry noted that he has raised this issue before:

I discussed this a number of times with the previous mayoral administration and they did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms. There are a number of buildings and institutions that bear the same name. The sale of the Red Sox by John Harrington helped to fund a number of very good works in the city done by the Yawkey Foundation (we had no control over where any monies were spent). The Yawkey Foundation has done a lot of great things over the years that have nothing to do with our history.

Still, Henry understands that the issue isn’t as simple as the Red Sox simply renaming the street (which was renamed for Yawkey in 1977):

The Red Sox don’t control the naming or renaming of streets. But for me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can – particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully. The Red Sox Foundation and other organizations the Sox created such as Home Base have accomplished a lot over the last 15 years, but I am still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived.

According to the Herald’s Michael Silverman, Henry is in favor of renaming the street “David Ortiz Way” or “Big Papi Way.”

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“We ought to be able to lead the effort and if others in the community favor a change, we would welcome it – particularly in light of the country’s current leadership stance with regard to intolerance,” said Henry.

UPDATE: The Yawkey Foundation issued the following statement:

Jean and Tom Yawkey’s philanthropy has always been color blind. Their extraordinary generosity has made a significant impact on Massachusetts and the Greater Boston community, contributing more than $450 million to hundreds of non-profit organizations and helping improve the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children of all backgrounds. We are honored to have the Yawkey name on so many organizations and institutions that benefit Bostonians of all races – and disheartened by any effort to embroil the Yawkeys in today’s political controversy.