Town of Reading Prepares for Voting on Bill Russell Day

Reading, MA – The Reading Select Board is set to hold a vote on June 18th to decide on establishing an ad hoc committee to honor the legendary Boston Celtics player who faced significant racial discrimination while living in the town. Russell’s legacy is still a driving force for the Celtics, whose playoff series continues this week against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.

The Reading Select Board issued a proclamation on August 9, 2022, that calls for “actively supporting the vision of an inclusive and welcoming community; celebrat[ing] Bill Russell’s life, his impact on our community, his impact on race relations, as well as his unparalleled success on the basketball court; and support[ing] efforts to learn from and gain inspiration from his values as he lived them”. In May 2023, former Select Board chair Jackie McCarthy and former Town Manager Fidel Maltez began working with a local social justice organization, CATO (The Coalition of Us), to honor Mr. Russell as an athlete and civil rights advocate. During these meetings, Mr. Maltez proposed the formation of an ad hoc committee to enable the Select Board to follow through on their promise to establish an annual commemoration of Bill Russell’s contributions on and off the court, as a tribute to the values that he espoused and lived by. 

Despite Russell’s contributions to the Celtics, including winning 11 championships in 13 years as a player and coach, and his status as a national figure, his time in Reading was marred by multiple racist incidents, including vandalism and hostility from some community members. CATO (The Coalition of Us) is calling on the Select Board to accept the ad hoc committee that is being proposed on June 18th to acknowledge and address the racism that Bill Russell and his family experienced during their time in Reading, as well as the marginalization that continues to be experienced in the current day. As James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

The vote comes after an initial proposal was met with mixed reactions in December of 2023, highlighting ongoing debates within the community about how to reconcile with its past while celebrating Russell’s legacy.

Philmore Phillip, founder of CATO and a Reading METCO program graduate. emphasized the importance of this recognition, stating, “It’s not fair to him and his family to be celebrated for his accomplishments without acknowledging what he dealt with in this town” (WBUR).

The community’s effort to honor Russell comes after a series of apologies issued to Black Americans who were unfairly targeted, including a notable apology from Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to Black men who were wrongfully convicted in the 1980s and 1990s (WYSO).

Reflecting on the challenges Russell faced, ESPN and NPR contributor Howard Bryant noted, “Vandals broke into his house and ransacked his house and smeared feces on his wall. That was something barbaric” (NPR).

The Town is gearing up for this important vote on a significant date, preceding Juneteenth, a day dedicated to reflection and recognition of the struggles and achievements of Black Americans.

For more information, please contact: or visit our website at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email