The name of a former Ku Klux Klan member will soon be stripped from a stadium at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
CMU president Tim Foster made the announcement Friday, calling the renaming of Walker Field “the right thing to do” after an impassioned meeting with a racially diverse group of students, faculty and staff.
The change “is going to bother some people, and it’s going to be rewarding to others,” Foster said. “And it really is, I think, a reflection that we’re just better than that. And we have to be better than that.”
The soccer and lacrosse stadium only got that name in 2006, at the request of a donor. Walter Walker was a local fixture who owned the Daily Sentinel newspaper for decades and was briefly appointed to the US Senate. According to evidence uncovered by one of the paper’s longtime columnists, he was also responsible for bringing the Klan to Grand Junction in the 1920s.
Foster calls this a “cautionary tale” about examining who should be honored by universities.
“You have to be, I think, willing to recognize when you make a mistake,” he said.
CMU quarterback Aaron Howard, who took part in Friday’s meeting, thinks this recognition sets a good example for the community.
“I know some people around here in Grand Junction have hard views on race and color, but I think most people here in Grand Junction are ready for this change and most of the people are good folks,” Howard said.
Mesa County has seen several marches, a vigil and a teach-in about racial justice and police brutality in the last few weeks. While all of this has been peaceful, and has even had the support of Howard’s football coach and the city’s police chief, the incoming senior said he thinks shifting racist attitudes in this predominantly white community will be a long journey.
“But when it’s a hard change, when it takes a long time and a lot of hurt and a lot of healing happens, that’s when really big things happen at the end,” he said.
CMU has not yet announced what Walker Field’s new name will be. There are still plenty of other tributes to Walker around the area, including a statue and a wilderness area that bears his name.