Story at a glance
- The Commissioner of the Fire Department of New York announced that a historic medal will be renamed to eradicate its ties to racist beliefs.
- Commissioner Daniel Nigro assured that this move would not erase history but pave the way for a more equitable future.
The storied Fire Department of New York (FDNY) made a sweeping change regarding the name of its James Gordon Bennett Medal for valor due to the racist beliefs held by the original namesake.
The FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro made the announcement of the change on the department’s official Instagram page, confirming the medal will henceforth be called the Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Medal.
View this post on Instagram
#FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro today announced that the James Gordon Bennett Medal – which was established in 1869 and was for many years the sole award for valor in the FDNY – will be permanently renamed the Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Medal. Chief Ganci was the highest ranking FDNY member killed on September 11, 2001. In his 33-year career, he held every uniformed rank and received numerous citations for bravery, including a medal for rescuing a child from a fire. Commissioner Nigro says, “This change is not meant to erase history, and it does not discredit the actions, memory, or valor of the 152 members of our Department who have been awarded this medal since its inception. Instead, this important change is meant to help us create a better present and future for our FDNY, one we can all be proud of. “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. “Our highest honor for bravery to a Firefighter or Fire Officer should be named for an individual who swore an oath to serve others and who once crawled down a hallway like all our Firefighters have done to search for New Yorkers trapped by fire. It should be named for a legendary Chief who is still revered by all of us so many years after his death. “This award for bravery should not be tied to someone who never served the FDNY, risked his life to save others, and who advocated for hate and slavery. That award should be named for the Chief who was leading our troops on our darkest day, a great man who gave his life overseeing the greatest rescue operation in FDNY history.” Traditionally held the first Wednesday in June, this year’s FDNY Medal Day ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19. A socially-distanced ceremony will take place later this year, when the Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Medal will be awarded for the first time.
A post shared by FDNY (@fdny) on
Nigro said that Ganci, a former FDNY chief, was the highest ranking official killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. He reportedly served on the FDNY for 33 years and held every uniformed rank available to firefighters.
MORE FROM CHANGING AMERICA
“The James Gordon Bennett Medal was endowed by its namesake to honor Firefighters who saved his home,” Nigro explains. “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.”
Nigro continued to say that this change is not meant to erase history or invalidate the actions of any former recipients of the medal, which has been given out on an annual basis since 1869. Some 152 members of the FDNY have been awarded the medal since its inception.
“This important change is meant to help us create a better present and future for our FDNY, one we can all be proud of,” Nigro said.
The renaming of the medal is the latest chapter in a larger narrative overtaking the U.S. following the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
As the U.S. is forced to reconcile its history of socially and economically suppressing Black Americans, more states are making conscious decisions to alter, rename or remove monuments that salute historic individuals or moments with links to racism.
Statues of Confederate leaders, Texas Rangers and even Christopher Columbus have been taken down from Richmond, Va., to San Francisco to reinforce the commitment to ending systemic racism.
Other new holidays and memorials have been erected to highlight critical moments in Black American history. On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that he would designate Juneteenth as a new state holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the town that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed, outlawing slavery.
MORE FROM CHANGING AMERICA