BWI One Step Closer to Changing Its Name
Ehrlich Signs Law to Add 'Thurgood Marshall' to Maryland Airport's Title
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 11, 2005; B01
Maryland's largest airport would be renamed in honor of the late
Thurgood Marshall, the nation's first black Supreme Court justice,
under legislation signed into law yesterday by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich
The law calls for the airport to be christened the Baltimore-Washington
International Thurgood Marshall Airport, in recognition of the
Baltimore native's contribution to the civil rights movement as a
lawyer, activist and judge. A three-member state panel on which Ehrlich
sits must give the change final approval, which is expected later this
"I am sure that every member of the Marshall family will rejoice with
this, and so will millions across the country," said civil rights
activist Dorothy Height, speaking on behalf of the justice's family
during a ceremony that drew several hundred people to a plaza outside
the State House in Annapolis, where a statue of Marshall as a young
The new name, which comes at a time of growth for the state-owned
airport, would probably first be evident through sign changes within
the airport. BWI would retain its internationally known three-letter
locator code, and some at yesterday's ceremony said they expect the
airport still would be commonly known by the name it has carried since
But advocates said adding Marshall's name would ensure that future
generations learn of his place in history. Passage of the legislation
became a leading priority for many of Maryland's black lawmakers this
Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County), the bill's lead sponsor,
said that yesterday's ceremony was "the second-happiest day of my
life," behind only his wedding day.
"Our purpose is to honor a great man," Burns told the crowd as his wife
stood by his side. "By the addition of the name . . . generations yet
unborn will ask the meaning of this -- and will be told that this
governor, this lieutenant governor, this legislature chose to honor one
of its own, a son of Maryland who changed the nation for all of
Other speakers, some of whom knew Marshall personally, recounted his
role before joining the court in arguing the groundbreaking 1954 school
desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education , as well as his other
contributions to the civil rights movement.
Civil rights lawyer Dwight Petit, who served as master of ceremonies,
was represented by Marshall as a schoolboy in a case initiated in 1958
against Harford County officials, who later were forced to integrate
the all-white Aberdeen High School.
In an interview, Petit said the airport's renaming honors "someone the
nation has not yet given enough credit" for being "the godfather of the
civil rights movement."
Although the legislation was approved by overwhelming numbers, it
created some controversy during the session, which several speakers
The original version of the bill called for Marshall's name to appear
at the beginning of the airport's name. Some thought that could
undermine the BWI moniker, which has become "a franchise name," and
cause confusion, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
As a compromise, the bill was amended, placing Marshall's name at the
end. Legislative analysts estimate that the name change would cost the
state $2.1 million, most of which would go toward changing signs in and
around the airport.
In his remarks, Ehrlich mentioned the controversy but said lawmakers
should put it behind them.
"Let there be no controversy," Ehrlich said. "This is the right and
appropriate thing to do."
Burns credited Ehrlich for making an early pledge to sign the
legislation if it reached his desk.
BWI, which was built in 1950 and originally called Friendship Airport,
rivals Virginia's Dulles International Airport for busiest in the
The law changing BWI's name would take effect Oct. 1. The change must
be approved by the Board of Public Works, a panel that consists of
state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) and Comptroller William Donald
Schaefer (D) in addition to Ehrlich. A spokesman for Kopp said she
plans to support the name change, and a spokesman for Schaefer, a
former governor, said he has not decided how he will vote.
Ehrlich signed dozens of other pieces of legislation into law
yesterday, many dealing with health and public safety issues. They
included a bill that would expand access to health care for low-income
workers by expanding use of health clinics.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company