Boston’s Yawkey Way Now Officially Gone, But What About “Jersey’s” Past?

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BOSTON — The city’s improvement commission voted unanimously on Thursday to enact a petition submitted by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry to permanently delete the namesake of a former Hall of Fame-enshrined owner from one of the Hub’s most well-known streets.

Yawkey Way, named in honor of former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey 41 years ago following his death at 73 in July of 1976, will be renamed Jersey Street — its original name.

The commission’s 5-0 vote came after weeks of public input and two postponements. Mayor Marty Walsh, speaking to reporters after an event in Jamaica Plain, would not say if he personally supports the change. In an March 1 column, Boston Globe scribe Adrian Walker — a longtime backer of ditching the Yawkey name over its perceived links to racism (the Red Sox were the last team to integrate, doing so in 1959) — wrote that “now it’s Marty Walsh’s move.” 

It turns out, however, that Walsh has nothing directly to do with the decision made by the Boston Public Improvement Commission. 

Instead, Walsh pointed out that the commission acted independently — per its official role — and determined that other street abutters, and not just Henry, are approving of the change. 

“I know a lot of people are talking about ‘this is going to help us end racism’,” Walsh told reporters, according to the Globe, the newspaper which also happens to be owned by Henry. “This is not the answer to that.

“The way we end racism is we deal with racism, we talk about racism, and we educate people about racism, and we have dialogues about racism, that’s the way we end racism.”

Yet one dialogue that has never surfaced in public statements made by Henry or any other detractor of the Yawkey name is the name “Jersey” and the British Channel isle’s own racist past, especially its role in the slave trade. Writing for The Heritage Magazine, a historical outfit, Jersey-focused historian Doug Ford researched the island’s complicated past:

Writing for CommonWealth Magazine, Colman M. Herman also researched the Jersey Street namesake for an opinion piece published earlier this month and was apparently informed by a Boston Public Library research librarian, via a spokesman, that “Jersey Street was named after the isle of Jersey in the English Channel and not after a particular individual.”

Jersey historian Doug Ford’s piece from The Heritage Magazine.

Ford in his own research found that  while Jersey was not directly involved in the slave trade, “it was involved on the periphery — there was too much money to be made from it.”

Ford noted that “Jerseyman George Carteret” was one of the founders of a 17th century outfit dubbed “The Company of Royal Adventurers into Africa” which participated in trade for “ivory, gold and slaves.” 

The company, however, was short-lived, although its Carteret-involved successor, called A New Royal African Company, “did not raid for slaves but traded for them in West Africa before shipping them to the West Indies, where in the 1660s the average price realised was £17 per head.”

Henry meanwhile has said he feels “haunted” by the Yawkey name, while the multi-million dollar charity foundation launched by the Yawkey family has repeatedly contested the current ownership’s disdain. 

In a statement released by the Yawkey Foundation following Thursday’s final vote, the organization described the development as a “sad day.”