D. C. Stadium will be remembered for games, not a historic civil rights site.
Washington’s D. C. Stadium, which opened in 1962 and has not been used since 2017, is one step closer to the wrecking ball. A permit has been filed to knock down the structure but there are some hurdles that remain in the way before someone dynamites the place. If all of the approvals are secured, D. C. Stadium or RFK Stadium will be gone by the end of 2023. It should be remembered that D. C. Stadium had a role in the civil rights movement in 1962. The National Football League’s Washington owner George Preston Marshall was a well-known racist and he refused to hire a Negro player for his football team. But Marshall had a chance to improve the bottom line by moving to a new stadium. It literally took the federal government to force Marshall’s hand.
The federal government had decided to build a multi-purpose stadium in Washington. Major League Baseball’s Washington Senators and the NFL team would be able to use the facility. But there was the Marshall white-only policy. President John F. Kennedy’s Interior Department played a major role in changing Marshall’s stance. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall told Marshall there was a law that prohibited discrimination in federal facilities. D. C. Stadium was a federal facility. Udall gave Marshall an ultimatum, hire Negro players or find somewhere else to play.
Cleveland traded Bobby Mitchell to Washington in a deal for a top draft pick that was initiated by the White House. Cleveland got the NFL rights to Syracuse University running back Ernie Davis. Marshall got a 30-year lease only after selecting Davis and making the Mitchell deal. Marshall was the last owner in the National Football League to desegregate his team. D. C. Stadium’s life is over but it was a place where the civil rights movement made some history.
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