The New York Fire Department announced that it would be renaming its medal of valor (https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/10/us/fdny-changes-james-gordon-bennett-medal-trnd/index.html). The medal will now be called the “Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Award” in honor of the FDNY chief who perished while saving citizens during the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City.
The medal was previously named the “James Gordon Bennett Medal” back in 1869 after the department benefactor who had initially endowed the award. FDNY stated, “The James Gordon Bennett Medal was endowed by its namesake to honor Firefighters who saved his home. However, Bennett also held deeply racist beliefs and used his newspaper to repeatedly express hateful views in full support of slavery. These views have no place in any society, and I believe we must cease including this individual's name, and therefore his legacy, in our annual celebration."
This renaming continues a recent trend dating back to the death of George Floyd. Since that tragedy many organizations have worked to distance themselves from titles deemed insensitive and racist. A large number of buildings on college campuses and primary schools have been renamed including Robert E. Lee high school in Tyler, TX and Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University. Several parks, streets, and government buildings have been changed too. Changes have also been made to band names, food products, restaurants, and sports teams including the Washington Redskins.
While these changes have been welcomed by the Black Lives Matter movement, they do not address the primary concerns that have led to widespread protesting and even rioting. Many within BLM have even been critical, citing these changes as purely cosmetic. Those in opposition to the movement have criticized these changes as a disrespect for history and heritage. In this specific instance, however, renaming the medal to honor a fallen American hero should be celebrated by all.
Image Credit: Chitose Suzuki/AP