Final approval given to adding Marshall name to BWI
Public works board backs change; Schaefer objects
By Jennifer Skalka
Sun Staff

September 1, 2005

Over the objection of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the state Board of Public Works gave final approval yesterday to a proposal to rename Maryland's largest airport for Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The board's decision was the last step needed to change the airport name to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The legislature overwhelmingly approved the move this year, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed the bill. A ceremony was held in May to celebrate the new name.

Schaefer said yesterday that Marshall, who was born in Baltimore in 1908, was not a fan of his home state. And Marshall had nothing to do with construction of the airport, Schaefer noted.

"This is wrong, and it shouldn't be done," Schaefer said during an exchange with Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., the Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Burns argued for the name change, saying it was important to honor Marshall in Maryland despite negative feelings he might have had about the state. Marshall was rejected by the University of Maryland Law School because of his race and attended Howard University law school.

Schaefer said the state had other tributes to Marshall.

"Did you know he didn't want to come to the dedication of his statue on Pratt Street?" Schaefer said.

"He had his idiosyncrasies," Burns replied.

Schaefer disagreed. "He didn't like Baltimore."

Schaefer suggested a compromise, proposing that the airport could be named for Marshall and Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., the former Baltimore mayor who had a role in getting the airport built. But Ehrlich pointed out that the legislature had voted for the name change and that Schaefer couldn't offer a different proposal.

State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said she supported the new name and understood that any animosity Marshall might have harbored for the state and the law school that rejected him.

"I must say that I think it would be less than human if he didn't have that sort of feeling," Kopp said.

Ehrlich suggested that Schaefer and Burns get together for lunch so that they might find another way to celebrate D'Alesandro, but Schaefer declined.

"I don't want to go to lunch," he said.

Even before yesterday, the bill to rename BWI in Marshall's honor was an issue.

Many in the business community expressed concern about how the airport would be marketed with a new name. As a compromise, Marshall's name will follow Baltimore-Washington International.

A fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that it will cost about $2 million to alter airport and road signs and repaint airport buses. The name change will take effect Oct. 1.

As a lawyer, Marshall argued dozens of cases in front of the Supreme Court. His most famous was Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that led to the desegregation of public schools.

Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and served until 1991. He died two years later.

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