The University of Maryland’s stadium name changes just in time to ring in the new year. Byrd Stadium, which has drawn criticism as being named after a segregationist, will instead be know as Maryland Stadium.
On Friday, the board of regents for the university voted to rename the home of the Terrapins. The Washington Post reported that Maryland president Wallace D. Loh was in favor of the change. Loh wrote a letter to the board.
“This is a difficult and emotion-laden issue. [Byrd] earned his place in our university’s history. He was also an ardent proponent of racial segregation and discrimination. To many African-American alumni and students, Byrd Stadium — the ‘front porch’ of the institution, not the most important part of the educational house but the most visible one — conveys a racial message hidden in plain sight.”
According to ESPN, the stadium was named after H.C. “Curley” Byrd, a former university president. Byrd was at first a football player, an All-American and captain of the team. After graduating from the school in 1908, be became the athletic director, and then rose to president in 1935. He was quite successful as the head of the university for 19 years, vigorously promoting the growth of the school until his retirement in 1954.
Enrollment at the university experienced explosive growth under Byrd’s guidance, blossoming in size from 3,400 students up to a whopping 16,000. According to The Washington Post, the school budget grew as well, from $3 million annually to $20 million. This helped cover the cost of the more than 60 buildings on campus that were constructed under Byrd’s watchful eye during that time.
When a new stadium at the university was built, the board of regents named it in honor of the president. However, Byrd “did not wish it to seem that he had been trying to build a monument to himself,” opposing the idea.
But Byrd had a dark side, supporting discrimination and racial segregation. He went so far as to propose that the public university become private to avoid complying with the integration laws called for by the federal government.
The Washington Post reports that Byrd claimed that the state should be involved in preventing the enrollment of black students at the campus.
“…We’re going to have to accept negroes at College Park, where our girls are.”
Although the university did finally accept enrollment of the first black student in 1951, while Boyd was still there, he did not approve nor support the matter.
He even ran for governor in 1954, reports The Washington Post, running under the campaign of “separate but equal.” He opposed the anti-lynching laws that the federal government was struggling to pass. Byrd lost his bid by a sound margin.
Patrick Ronk, president of the Maryland student government association, said the impetus pushing the stadium name change came from student activism. The subject of the name came up quickly when a group of students met to discuss racial tensions on campus.
“They said, ‘How do we feel welcome at the university when one of the most prominent buildings on campus is named after a segregationist?'”
In March, Maryland senior Colin Byrd began collecting signatures to support a petition asking Loh to examine the racial elements and unrest that occurred during Byrd’s presidency and to consider the name change. Colin is not related to the former president.
Speaking in favor of the stadium name change to the board members, Colin reminded them that black students make up the majority of the football team that actually plays in the stadium.
“[Players] should not have to do so with the symbolic shadows of someone who would have hated you.”
Colin was happy with the board’s decision, reports The Washington Post.
“I think today is a watershed moment for the University of Maryland. I think we’re moving towards making sure we don’t honor individuals who conflict with our current commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Not everyone agreed with the change, however. A 1973 Maryland graduate, Regent Robert Rauch opposed the proposal.
“My point is that fundamentally I don’t support the idea of changing names or moving monuments for symbolic reasons I am 100 percent supportive of the expectation and the hopes and the needs of improving diversity on the campus, but I’m not sure that I totally believe that the effort to change the name of the stadium is the answer.”
On Loh’s urging, the board also placed a five-year moratorium on honoring individuals by naming buildings.
Do you think the stadium name change is a positive or negative one for the Maryland students?
[Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]