Segregationist George Preston Marshall's monument is removed from RFK Stadium grounds
By LIZ CLARKE AND RICK MAESE | The Washington Post | Published: June 19, 2020
WASHINGTON — As morning broke in Washington on Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, the long-standing monument to Washington Redskins founding owner George Preston Marshall, the last NFL owner to integrate his roster, was dismantled and removed from the grounds of RFK Stadium.
The action followed years of lobbying by local residents who objected to memorializing an owner who opposed desegregation. It was taken down by Events DC, the city's convention and sports authority that manages and is currently redeveloping the 190-acre RFK campus that served as the Redskins' game-day home from 1961 to 1996.
In a statement, Events DC characterized the monument's removal as "a small and overdue step on the road to lasting equality and justice."
"This symbol of a person who didn't believe all men and women were created equal and who actually worked against integration is counter to all that we as people, a city, and nation represent," the statement read. "We believe that injustice and inequality of all forms is reprehensible, and we are firmly committed to confronting unequal treatment and working together toward healing our city and country.
"... We recognize that we can do better and act now. We've heard from many of our stakeholders in the community, and we thank you. Allowing the memorial to remain on the RFK Campus goes against Events DC's values of inclusion and equality and is a disturbing symbol to many in the city we serve."
The Washington Redskins, whose front office was not consulted on the removal, declined to comment through a spokesperson.
Denise Rucker Krepp, who represents Ward 6B on the city's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, was driving past the rusting RFK Stadium, which city officials plan to raze in 2021, as workers began dismantling the monument Friday morning and immediately pulled over to watch.
"I almost created an accident," Krepp said by telephone. "I immediately parked the car and started taking pictures. To see them take this initiative on Juneteenth makes me so happy. We — the community — has made it crystal clear that this is not welcome. He does not represent our views, and he needs to get out. I was overjoyed and elated."
Marshall, the founding owner of the Redskins who gave the team its controversial nickname, staunchly opposed integration in all facets of life. He was the last NFL owner to sign an African-American player and only did so, in 1962, after then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to revoke permission to play on the federally owned site now named for Kennedy.
The Marshall monument is the latest prominently placed, racially charged symbol to be removed as the nation grapples with its legacy of racism amid calls for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's May 25 killing while in police custody. In city squares and college campuses across the country, officials are taking down statues and monuments to Civil War dead and segregationists. At the U.S. Capitol, portraits of four former Speakers of the House of Representatives associated with the Confederacy were removed.
Another former Washington team owner's statue was removed Friday. The Minnesota Twins chose Juneteenth to announce they have removed the statue of former team owner Calvin Griffith, who made a series of racists comments in a 1978 speech, from outside Target Field.
"While we acknowledge the prominent role Calvin Griffith played in our history, we cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978," the team said in a statement. "His disparaging words displayed a blatant intolerance and disregard for the Black community that are the antithesis of what the Minnesota Twins stand for and value."
Griffith owned the Washington Senators for five seasons before moving them to Minnesota, where they became the Twins. In his 1978 speech, he said, "I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. ... We came here because you've got good, hard-working white people here." His remarks in part prompted Hall of Famer Rod Carew to push for a trade.
Earlier this month, NASCAR officials banned displays of the Confederate flag at their racetracks.
Many feel the Washington Redskins' name should be part of these recent re-evaluations. According to Krepp, someone had painted "CHANGE THE NAME" on the Marshall monument in bright red paint overnight.
A poll of Native Americans conducted on behalf of The Washington Post in spring 2016 found that nine in 10 Native Americans said they were not offended by the name.
Daniel Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, has vowed repeatedly that he won't change the name, and fellow NFL owners and league officials have shown little interest in convincing him otherwise.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser reiterated her opposition to the name earlier this month in an interview with the Team 980, saying: "It's past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people."
On the RFK grounds Friday, crews dispatched by Events DC started preparing the roughly 10-feet-tall memorial for removal shortly before 10 a.m. A crane loomed overhead, as a half-dozen workers wrapped the monument in straps while about a dozen others looked on.
One car slowed, and one occupant shouted, "Change the name." Another shouted "Tear it down."
After the monument fell back with a thud, it was loaded onto the bed of truck that soon whisked it away.
Nearby resident Meredith Holmgren had seen the news on social media and walked over to watch the granite memorial fall, snapping photos with her phone of a moment that had been subject of debate and discussion for several years. "I think this has been a long time coming," Holmgren said. "People in the neighborhood have been asking about this memorial for many years and suggesting that it be removed. So long overdue."
Asked whether removing the Marshall monument from RFK on Juneteenth, in the context of other statues and memorials falling, felt like the right time, Holmgren said: "The right time would've been a long time ago, but I am not surprised that now is the time it is actually happening. Just glad to see it come to fruition."