PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The backlash came swiftly after the Philadelphia Flyers announced they would stop playing Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” and removed her statue outside the Wells Fargo Center after her history of racist songs were revealed. A former Flyers executive had sharp words for the team today and other communities are vowing to remember her.
“I just think it’s a shame,” said Lou Scheinfeld, the former vice president of the Flyers.
Smith’s career is most recognized for her singing of “God Bless America,” but more than 30 years since she died, her legacy has become tarnished after racially-insensitive songs she sang early in her career recently surfaced. The statue of her outside the arena is now gone and her recording will no longer play during games.
“We cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today,” the Flyers said in a statement.
One song Smith recorded was called “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” and it included the lyrics, “someone had to pick cotton.”
“Pretty bad, pretty bad, but that was then,” said Scheinfeld.
Scheinfeld, who was the first to play Smith’s version of “God Bless America” at a Flyers game, admitted the lyrics sound bad, but said the statue should not have been removed because of some old songs.
“It was considered satire, apparently,” said Scheinfeld.
However, Dr. Aaron Smith, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Temple University, says the songs are “not satire for us.”
“When you want to move forward, the best way to show you’re sincere is to change your behavior,” said Smith.
Still, Scheinfeld plans to remember Smith. He keeps an enlarged stamp of her in his home office and he wants to put a copy in a sports museum he hopes to open in South Philadelphia. He will include her legacy and the current controversy.
“I don’t know in all my years associated with the Flyers if there was any hint of racism or an issue with Kate Smith. She was a wonderful patriot and American,” said Scheinfeld.
There is no word on when that museum will open.
Also on Monday, Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano said he will continue playing Smith’s “God Bless America” every day on the boardwalk.
It’s not known if there is a plan to replace Smith’s statue.