When I was in college, my dorm at the University of Maryland, College Park, was right across the street from Byrd Stadium. I looked out my window every day at the stadium. Honestly, and this may attest to how much I actually paid attention while in school, I had no idea who Byrd was. Frankly, I never really cared. I figured it was some building named after some old man who did something for the university and, in return, they named a building after him.
Well, and I only really learned this lately, it turns out I was right. Byrd Stadium was named for Harry Clifton "Curley" Byrd, a former university president from 1936 to 1954. He was a coach and administrator at Maryland for 25 years prior, during which time he was an advocate for school sports, including the oversight of the stadium's construction. For his efforts, the stadium was named for him. But apparently, and I just learned this recently as well, Byrd was also instrumental in barring blacks from playing sports or even entering the university prior to 1951. Some, including current student groups on campus, are now calling for a name change, calling Byrd a racist and a segregationist.
At a town hall meeting in early April, University President Wallace Loh, in response to a question from the audience, said he would form a work group to consider renaming the field. Loh commended the student for asking the question, saying its the kind of question that has a right to be asked. But when pushed, he wouldn't offer an opinion because he didn't want to taint the process. He did, though, remind the audience that Byrd's actions came at a time prior to the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. The Board of Education case when the entire state of Maryland was segregated as were most state institutions. You can find the video of the town hall meeting on YouTube. For what it's worth, the university's Student Government Association overwhelmingly supports a name change.
If you think this is an isolated case, think again. Students at Duke, Yale, the University of North Carolina and Clemson University, among others, have made similar requests to rename buildings on campus over the past several years. In more cases than not, names are coming off buildings and more generic names are being used. Universities aren't alone. The Daily Caller reported this past July that a teacher at a high school in Portland, Oregon, named for President Woodrow Wilson — often viewed as a progressive Democrat — wants the school renamed because he's considered a racist.
The movement to rename these buildings seems to have gathered steam since the June 17 slayings of nine black worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. The horrific incident has prompted public bodies to take a hard look at statues, public buildings and the like about whether historical figures with ties to slavery and the Confederacy should be honored. Last month, the Carroll County Democratic Club went through something similar when it weighed whether to change the name of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner because both were slave-owners and because of Jackson's involvement in the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of Native Americans from East of the Mississippi River. The club still hasn't made a final decision on the name change but Democratic clubs across the country have made the change already.
Frankly, I'm not seeing that government has much of a choice than to change the names. Whether you think it smacks of political correctness or political practicality, the potential blowback for elected officials or others in public jobs like Loh is going be great. If this sounds as if the issue is as much about politics as it is dealing with racism, well you're likely right. It was politics that likely got people's names on a building, and it will be politics that will get their names off of them.
All of this has got to make you wonder why going forward, any public building should be named for someone. It would seem to be the path of least resistance. The cynic in me thinks that the best approach is for government to do what sports teams and hospitals do when you name a stadium or a medical wing. If you want your name on a building, pay for it. Then again, that would likely draw complaints too.
Paul Milton is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Email him at email@example.com.