Amid much debate and strong feelings, University of Maryland's president has recommended that Byrd Stadium be renamed. It's the correct choice given Harry C. "Curley" Byrd's history as an ardent segregationist, and one that was made possible only by the tireless efforts of the student protesters who raised the issue in a civil and thoughtful manner.
In his various roles as the school's president, athletic director and head football coach, Byrd did much for the institution, but no one can deny that he chose to bar the door to black students until a court order forced their acceptance. Later, as an unsuccessful candidate for governor and for Congress in the 1960s, he ran on a "separate but equal" platform, a political position that may not have been a novelty among those seeking elected office in that era but unenlightened nonetheless given the Supreme Court's unanimous Brown v. Board of Education ruling years earlier.
In discussing this difficult issue with The Sun's editorial board two months ago, UM President Wallace D. Loh promoted the school's efforts to honor two other notable Marylanders: Parren J. Mitchell, the former Baltimore congressman who sought, and eventually won, admission to the school's graduate sociology program, and Frederick Douglass, the Maryland-born former slave and abolitionist. Mitchell's name is on the Art-Sociology Building while an 8-foot statue of Douglass now gazes upon Byrd Stadium from the front of Hornbake Library. Both bring a measure of racial justice to the campus, but they don't address the protesters central concern — that Mr. Byrd might continue to be honored in such a prominent manner given his legacy of denying admission to African American students.
It is now up to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents to decide whether to change the name, and that vote could come as early as Friday morning. We would urge them to follow Mr. Loh's carefully researched and considered recommendation. Indeed, it is disappointing that Gov. Larry Hogan has chosen to remain on the sidelines on this matter given that, as someone who grew up in Prince George's County and whose father served as county executive, his support would have been extremely helpful in broadening public support. That it might also have been seen as an endorsement of racial inclusion would go a long way toward healing a state still grappling with the death of Freddie Gray and the questions of police brutality and discrimination it sparked.
But we also know that some will inevitably wring their hands over this choice and decry the change as an effort to rewrite history. Even those who give little thought to Byrd, who has been dead for 45 years and whose name is known to many only in the context of Terrapin home football games, will wonder if this is an act of political correctness. If, however, by "political correctness," those critics are alluding to how 21st century Marylanders have become more enlightened about issues of social justice and the harms caused to minority groups in the past then, yes, perhaps it is. There are times when offensive memorials — whether in the form of a statue of Lenin in Russia or a Confederate flag flying over a U.S. state capitol — deserve to be taken down.
This much we concede: Such matters are not always easy calls. Across the country, student protests have sparked debates over racism and inequality and the legacies of such august figures as Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson. And we have pondered, like Mr. Loh, whether the debate over Byrd Stadium isn't helpful in itself, a reminder of Maryland's segregationist past that Mr. Mitchell, in particular, helped overcome. Still, it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that, as the protesters pointed out, to leave the stadium alone is to glorify a racist.
In the end, there is a balance to be struck. Do we leave our history unexamined? Do we attempt to give it greater context? Do we excise the offensive? There is no simple answer. Renaming a Baltimore area park formerly named for Robert E. Lee with its minimal connection to the Confederate general or taking a noted segregationist's name off a stadium in College Park are reasonable choices and hardly presage a wholesale purge of Maryland history. That student activism set the stage for the choice at UM (much as student protests have brought reforms to other campuses) is something to be celebrated, not maligned. It's a sign that students at Maryland's flagship school are learning important lessons not only about the world around them but how to make it a better place.