Renaming Issue Splits Plympton St.

Initiative To Create "Halberstam St." Divides Residents and Crimson Alumni

Unnamed photo
Richard F. Taylor

Current and former occupants of Plympton Street are divided over a proposal to rename the street in honor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former managing editor of The Harvard Crimson David L. Halberstam ’55, who would have turned 74 yesterday.

On Monday, the Cambridge City Council voted to send the proposition to the Government Operations and Rules Committee, which will hold a public hearing to discuss it.

Adam Clymer ’58, the president of The Crimson’s Graduate Council and a former New York Times reporter, said he is ambivalent about the proposal.

“David was a great journalist, and some of his earliest great days were at Plympton Street,” Clymer said. “But the [street] name has identified The Crimson since far longer than David’s tenure.”

The proposal was brought by former Cambridge mayor Francis H. Duehay ’55 on behalf of several of Halberstam’s classmates. One of them, Stanley N. Katz ’55, is organizing Halberstam’s friends and colleagues to sign a letter in favor of the proposal.

“Really the idea is to show that there’s a broad base of support,” Katz said.

Jean Halberstam, Halberstam’s wife, called the name change “well-intentioned.”

“I think there are probably a lot of other Crimson alums who deserve the honor as well,” she added. “I’m more than anything amused by it.”

According to Katz, many people will need to be consulted before the proposal goes through.

Among them is current Crimson President Malcom A. Glenn ’09, who opposes the name change.

Glenn and current managing editor Paras D. Bhayani ’09 recently wrote a letter to the City Council, asking that the council refrain from renaming the street. Glenn said that while he is in favor of honoring Halberstam, he and other past and present Crimson reporters are very attached to the 14 Plympton St. address.

In his letter, Glenn said he suggested adding “Halberstam” as an honorary, but not official, part of the street name.

“[Glenn’s] statement would probably have resonated with David,” said Arthur J. Langguth, Jr. ’55, who was president of The Crimson when Halberstam was managing editor. “He loved tradition.”

But renaming the street will have an effect on more than mere tradition.

Standing in the cramped main room of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, manager Dan J. Wuenschel said that while he agreed that Halberstam should be honored, his store could not afford the logistical changes that would come with renaming the street.

Street name changes are rare in Cambridge, according to City Councillor Sam Seidel, who is also a member of the Government Rules and Operations Committee. Plympton Street, originally called Chestnut Street., was given its current moniker in 1875.

Due to the interest that Seidel said he anticipated from the Cambridge and Harvard communities, the Committee is likely to hold a hearing within the next month.

In honor of Halberstam, his wife established an endowment in October for Teach for America, which sends recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged schools.

“I think it’s fitting,” she said. “David always thought of journalism as education.”

After college, Halberstam moved to Mississippi to cover the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his critical New York Times coverage of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government.

Halberstam wrote more than 20 books and continued reporting for the rest of his life—he was killed in a car crash last April on the way to an interview.

—Staff writer Sarah J. Howland can be reached at showland@fas.harvard.edu