The city’s move to unload the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Bowman Gray Stadium makes good financial sense.
The venues aren’t cash cows, and long gone are the days when local municipalities had the resources to keep such operations afloat for the sake of tradition.
It doesn’t make sense to us, though, why our leaders, especially the African American ones on our City Council, have not made more of an effort to keep Lawrence Joel’s name attached to the coliseum, regardless of who owns it in the future.
The pending sale agreement with Wake Forest only requires that the school maintain a significant Lawrence Joel presence at the facility. That sounds a bit murky to us. Does that mean a flag-adorned portrait near the main entrance, or will the “Lawrence Joel Corporate Box” suffice?
No presence is as significant as the Joel name on the building itself and the signs in and around the structure. The Lawrence Joel name having such visibility leads to impromptu history lessons. Imagine how many kids ask their parents “who’s Lawrence Joel?” during trips up and down University Parkway. If parents don’t have an answer, they’ll be compelled to find one.
Still, too few people know about Joel, a city native who was one of 16 children. He enlisted in the Army at age 18 and would spend nearly 30 years serving his country. Joel became the first medic and living African American to earn the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, in 1967 for his bravery more than a year earlier in Vietnam, when Joel, though shot in the thigh and calf, continued to treat his fellow soldiers during a bloody Viet Cong ambush.
President Lyndon Johnson presented the medal to Joel on the White House lawn. A month after the presentation, Winston-Salem held a large parade to honor its native son. No other sizable tribute to Joel would come from his hometown until 1986, two years after Joel died and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, when the City Council voted to name the coliseum in his honor.
It seems unfathomable that 25 years later, such a tribute could be snatched away from a man who brought this city such acclaim and pride. The name of the M.C. Benton (a former mayor) Convention Center didn’t change when the city essentially signed over ownership to a private corporation, and Winston-Salem State University says that it will not change the name of Bowman Gray Stadium if it takes over ownership of the venue.
It would and should make us all mad as Hades if the Lawrence Joel name is sacrificed for the sake of progress.
If our elected officials can’t protect the Joel name, then how can we have faith in them when tougher, more complex issues come before them?