The Fire Department is renaming its highest medal for heroics after acknowledging the award was named after a man who “held deeply racist beliefs.”
The James Gordon Bennett Medal, instituted in 1869 for firefighters who deliver remarkable acts of bravery on the job, will be renamed to honor Peter J. Ganci Jr., who became the highest-ranking FDNY member to die in the line of duty when he was killed answering the call on 9/11.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro announced the change in an agency order dated Tuesday.
Bennett, the publishing giant who founded the New York Herald, used racial slurs while he penned racist and pro-slavery pieces at the paper around the Civil War.
“This generous symbol of gratitude began a tradition that we have continued for 150 years,” wrote Nigro in the order. “However, James Gordon Bennett also held deeply racist beliefs. Using his publishing empire, he repeatedly expressed abhorrent and hateful views in full support of slavery.”
James Tempro, who became the first black firefighter to receive the medal in 1969, called for its remaining in 2017.
“When I received the award in 1969, I had no idea of the history of Bennett, who he was or what he stood for,” Tempro told The Daily News at the time. “But now that I’ve learned more about his beliefs, that he was a racist who supported slavery, it demeans the medal for me a bit.”
Bennett’s name was always associated with the medal; he had endowed the award to the department after firefighters put out a blaze in his home in 1868.
A statue of Bennett still stands in Herald Square and a scholarship for children and grandchildren of city newspaper workers is named in his honor.
“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’s order continues.
“This tremendous honor for our Firefighters will no longer be tied to someone who never served this Department, never risked his own life to save life and property, and who advocated for despicable actions against others.”