Hagerstown’s Memorial Boulevard

I wrote a letter into my local newspaper last week, the Herald-Mail. The letter was published in today’s issue. The letter pertained to the renaming a street here in Hagerstown in honor of Willie Mays, one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

He actually played his first professional baseball game in Hagerstown.

The street that was to be renamed in his honor is where the baseball stadium is located in Hagerstown. It actually has true historical baseball significance associated with it. It’s not every city that can claim to be the site where one of the best baseball players of all time got his very first start.

The street’s name was never changed. It seems some Hagerstown area people got upset because they felt that renaming Memorial Boulevard to Willie Mays Way would be an insult to military veterans, even though nobody is really quite sure why Memorial Boulevard was named Memorial Boulevard.

It’s my opinion that Memorial Boulevard wasn’t renamed Willie Mays Way simply because he’s black.

It’s not because Hagerstown especially loves military veterans.

If Memorial Boulevard was to honor veterans, where was the actual memorial? The street lacked a true memorial for decades. It took the threat of naming the street after a black man to get people to pay for a real memorial.

Here is the letter:

I’m responding to a letter you published written by Louise Dawson of Hagerstown. In her letter, she states that the reason Memorial Boulevard was not renamed Willie Mays Way was because people complained. The reason they complained she states was not because Willie Mays is black, but because “veterans did not want it changed.”

For the record, I’m a veteran of the U.S. military. I wanted Memorial Boulevard renamed Willie Mays Way. I thought it would be a fitting tribute to one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Not only a tribute to the player, but to the city where he played his first professional baseball game – it’s a fact that those of us who live in Hagerstown can be proud of. The street and the city actually has some historical baseball significance connected to it.

What I am not proud of is the way some of our city’s residents treated Willie Mays. It has been documented that Mays was subjected to racial slurs during the game. He also was not allowed to stay in the same Hagerstown hotel with the rest of his teammates. I, for one, am ashamed of the treatment Willie Mays received here. Renaming of the street in his honor would have been a positive first step in righting a past wrong committed by people of this city. It would have sent the message that the people of Hagerstown today do not agree with the way Mays was treated. Not only is Hagerstown known at the city that treated Willie Mays wrongly during his first professional baseball game because he was black, it’s now known as the city that more recently refused to rename a portion of a street to honor him.

It’s not as though a famous World War I epic battle took place on Memorial Boulevard. From what I can tell, few even know actually what war, battle, or group of warriors Memorial Boulevard is supposed to memorialize. That’s if it was even named Memorial Boulevard to honor anything at all. The fact that few city officials or residents even know why it was named Memorial Boulevard speaks volumes of its significance.

Blame military veterans for not honoring Willie Mays if you must. Just don’t blame this veteran.