As an African-American student in the Department of Sociology and the son of a University of Maryland alum, I appreciate the university's plans to name the Art-Sociology Building after Parren Mitchell, the first African-American to study on the College Park campus, and dedicate a Frederick Douglass Square complete with statue. However, that's not enough to counter the continued damage done by keeping the name of a segregationist former school president on the UMD football stadium, as suggested by current University President Wallace Loh and The Sun's editorial board.
Years ago, before the issue of renaming Byrd Stadium was raised, there were calls for President Loh to support renaming the Art-Sociology Building after Mitchell, and President Loh was uninterested. But it appears he only became interested in honoring Mitchell when he perceived doing so as an opportunity to preemptively excuse what appears to be his plan to oppose renaming Byrd Stadium. Thus, his recognition of Mitchell is overdue, disingenuous and only a part of a despicable and calculated effort to continue to enshrine a white supremacist. (Furthermore, credit for Frederick Douglass Square should go to UMD history professor Ira Berlin.)
In a meeting with The Sun's editorial board, President Loh compared honoring Parren Mitchell and keeping Byrd Stadium to the compromise that was struck in Annapolis a while back when a statue of Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who handed down the Dred Scott decision, was kept on State House grounds while a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice, was erected.
But this comparison is extremely weak for two key reasons. First, while the statue of Thurgood Marshall is a more prominent display than the statue of Taney, an academic building named after Parren Mitchell will pale in comparison to the magnificent landmark that is Byrd Stadium. This is in spite of the fact that Mitchell served in Congress for eight terms, while H.C. "Curley" Byrd (no relation) lost multiple bids for Congress. Second, to simply honor Parren Mitchell neglects to recognize the scope of Curley Byrd's opposition to integration. Byrd did not just oppose integration in the classroom. He also opposed integration on the playing field. Even after losing a lawsuit and reluctantly allowing Mitchell to study in College Park, Byrd still refused to allow blacks to play football at Maryland, which is made more troubling by the overwhelming contributions that African-Americans have made to Maryland athletics and, in particular, Maryland football, over the years.
Today, the football team that plays in Byrd Stadium is predominantly black. The athletic director is black. And now even the head coach is black. Honoring Curley Byrd through that stadium represents a major failure to acknowledge their contributions. It would be appropriate to rename Byrd Stadium after Darryl Hill, Maryland's first black football player and the first black football player at a major college in the South, who holds multiple receiving records. He not only helped to transform Maryland athletics for the better; he helped to transform athletics at colleges across the nation, and he paved the way for the diverse teams that we see today.
President Loh also suggested that, while Curley Byrd was a racist, he was just a product of his time. But, in fact, there were high ranking state officials, like Senate President James Lindsay and Gov. Theodore McKeldin, who, unlike Byrd, supported integration.
There are over 300 buildings on the College Park campus. Including the forthcoming Parren Mitchell building, only three would be named after African-Americans. And there are no athletic facilities named after African-Americans.
If Maryland chooses to honor Curley Byrd over Darryl Hill, it will show that its true colors are anti- people of color. Thus, the message will be made clear to black athletes at Maryland: You can run, you can catch, and you can tackle, but you can't have the dignity of playing the sport you love outside the symbolic shadows of someone who would have hated you.
Colin Byrd is a University of Maryland senior. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.