Md. Considers Naming Airport After Thurgood Marshall

Baltimore-Washington International Airport may soon become the Thurgood Marshall (search) Baltimore-Washington International Airport if a bill introduced by a Maryland Democratic lawmaker to honor the former Supreme Court justice passes.

Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. (search) said it was important to recognize Marshall as "the greatest civil rights hero of our time."

Thurgood Marshall, born in Baltimore in 1908, served as legal director for the NAACP (search) from 1940 to 1961 during the crucial period of school desegregation, culminating in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education (search) decision declaring segregation of public schools illegal. He was named to the Supreme Court in 1967. He died in 1993.

The state honored Marshall in 1996 with a statue in front of the Maryland State House in Lawyers' Mall.

"He did more legally to bring America back to its true meaning than anyone else. What better way to honor him than to put his name on an airport," Burns said. He noted that Marshall's wife, who also works for the NAACP, is excited about it.

"It's now time for blacks to be honored in the way others have been honored," Burns said, noting airports named after Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and former New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

"It will give Thurgood Marshall international recognition. If I check my bags in Beijing, China, the person ticketing them will see Thurgood Marshall on the ticket."

But Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said that any change in the airport code from BWI to a code that included Thurgood Marshall's name would be a major expense for the airline, which is a major operator at the airport. She said that when New Orleans changed the name of its airport to Louis Armstrong (search) the cost was modest because the code did not change.

Spokesmen for United and America West agreed the expense from a name change would be minimal, but a code change much more.

"We're waiting to see what the Legislature does with respect to a code change," Eichinger said.

The bill has a hearing before the House Health and Government Operations Committee Wednesday.

When Washington National was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (search), the airport itself spent about $28,000 to change signs, according to Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority spokeswoman Tara Hamilton.

The Virginia Department of Transportation also had to spend about $30,000 on new signs for that change, said spokeswoman Joan Morris.

It cost about $400,000 for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (search), Metro, to change all the names on all the pylons and maps, said spokeswoman Taryn McNeil.

The Department of Legislative Services said that the cost of the change had not yet been included in the bill.

"We're aware of the legislation. We're reviewing it at this time. As of yet we have not formed an opinion on it," said Jack Cahalan, Maryland Department of Transportation's public affairs director.

"Any cost is de minimus compared to the (benefit of) honoring Thurgood Marshall," said Democratic Delegate Peter Franchot, chairman of the House Budget Committee with oversight for the airport.

"Everything else in this country that isn't nailed down has been named for Ronald Reagan," Franchot said.

"It's nice to honor hometown people," said Democratic Delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr., noting that the John Hanson (search) Highway was named for the true first president of the United States, who led the country under the Articles of Confederation (search), before the Constitution -- and President George Washington.

"It would be far more entertaining to name BWI for Bill Clinton, so we'd have Red (Reagan) and Blue (BWI) airports to blame bad weather on. Too few people know who John Foster Dulles (search) was," Madaleno said.

"Thurgood Marshall is less entertaining, but far more appropriate."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.