General Assembly

Justice's family to back BWI renaming
Thurgood Marshall's wife, son to urge legislators to honor civil rights pioneer; Bill passed House, sits in Senate
By Ivan Penn
Sun Staff

March 28, 2005

In a move to press the state Senate to support renaming Baltimore-Washington International Airport for former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, lawmakers and African-American political leaders plan to hold a news conference today featuring the civil rights pioneer's widow and son.

Lawmakers plan to award Cecilia Marshall a citation to honor her life, and she and her son Thurgood Marshall Jr. plan to speak on behalf of legislation to rename BWI the Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport. The bill passed the House but has remained in the Senate without a hearing.

"It is a little surprising to us that its future in the Senate seems a little uncertain," said Larry S. Gibson, a Baltimore lawyer who was the political strategist for former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's campaigns and is an organizer of the event. "No senator has really stepped up and said they will take a lead role."

One of the problems appears to be that the legislation's sponsor, Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, did not secure support in the Senate for the legislation before introducing it, including from members of the Anne Arundel County delegation, where the airport is located. That could mean some political trouble for the bill and for Burns, who has long been at odds with the senator from his district, Sen. Delores G. Kelley, who dropped him from her ticket during the last election.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. takes another view, saying renaming the airport for Marshall - one of his personal heroes - could pose competitive problems for one of the state's major economic resources.

With the names Baltimore and Washington prominent in the airport's name, it tends to draw people from both the Baltimore and Washington areas, which helps the airport compete with Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the District of Columbia and Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, Miller said.

"It's a marketing issue," said Miller, adding that the state cannot afford to risk losing any foothold it has in the airline industry. "The airport and the port are the two economic engines that drive the state of Maryland."

Miller said he congratulates Gibson and Thurgood Marshall Jr. for their effort. But he said he would encourage Gibson to push to have the justice's name attached to an institution such as the University of Maryland School of Law - the institution that denied Marshall admission and where Gibson teaches.

Marshall, the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice, was a native Baltimorean who died in 1993, after serving on the court for 24 years. He joined the nation's highest court after pioneering strategies that stopped legal discrimination, in particular in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that declared school segregation illegal.

Renaming airports after prominent local personalities has become a growing trend across the nation.

In addition to renaming National Airport after Reagan, New Orleans named its airport for jazz musician Louis Armstrong.

Atlanta officials renamed that city's airport Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to include the names of two former city mayors. Mississippi added the name of civil rights activist Medgar Evers to the Jackson International Airport.

"It's not like this is something new," Gibson said. "There are more than 20 airports across the country named for famous persons."

Burns said that beyond the politics and rhetoric, he believes Marshall simply should be granted the honor.

"There's no individual who has done more, traveled more and deserves more," Burns said.

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