Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

UC-Berkeley Adjunct Calls For Renaming Boalt Hall Due To John Boalt's 1870s Anti-Chinese Racism

Boalt HallSan Francisco Chronicle op-ed: The Case For Renaming Boalt Hall, by Charles Reichmann (Adjunct Professor, UC-Berkeley):

Many colleges and universities have grappled in recent years with a difficult question: Under what circumstances should an institution remove a historical name from a building or other campus space, and what principles should guide such a decision? ...

Berkeley Law’s main classroom building is named Boalt Hall after John Henry Boalt, whose widow, Elizabeth Josselyn, made a substantial donation to erect a building in memory of her husband, dedicated in 1911. ...

Who was Boalt? Berkeley Law’s website identifies him only as an attorney and the husband of its benefactor. An established lawyer in Nevada, Boalt moved to California in 1871 at a time when Chinese immigration was rising in the state. From the time of the Gold Rush, Chinese settlers had come to California, but the 1870s saw their numbers increase 67 percent. By 1880 a full 8.7 percent of California’s population was Chinese, with few eligible for citizenship. The 1870s were also an era of economic crisis and increasing class tensions. Labor groups — and politicians eager to court them — blamed the Chinese for unemployment, poor working conditions and low wages. The call for Chinese exclusion began to be heard in the Golden State.

Boalt prospered in California and soon was president of the Bohemian Club. In 1877, Boalt delivered an influential address, “The Chinese Question,” at the Berkeley Club. ...

Recognizing the limits of California’s power in the federal system, Boalt proposed an unprecedented move — holding an advisory ballot measure to send a message to Eastern elites that California spoke with one voice on the Chinese. The Chronicle praised this proposal and the Legislature agreed; it was signed into law late in 1877, and two years later the voters by large majorities voted to advise Congress to put an end to Chinese immigration.

Boalt’s virulently racist “The Chinese Question” was included in an official report of the state of California, thousands of copies of which were distributed to influence newspapers and elected officials throughout the land. In 1882, largely as a result of California’s lobbying, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law banning a group of immigrants solely on the basis of race or nationality. Boalt was instrumental in catalyzing California opinion in support of this law. ...

Berkeley Law has paid tribute to Boalt solely because in 1906 his wife made a generous donation to construct the first Boalt Hall. If it continues to honor him without acknowledging what he did, then it is either because it has forgotten Boalt’s ardent and influential racism, or because it places continuity and tradition ahead of its own nobler principles and values.

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Mikee nailed it.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Jun 6, 2017 10:50:11 AM

Saul, first, a symbolic change is not necessarily "small." IS the risk really small? Read the disdain in the comments above and think of the reputational damage that is being self-inflicted here. And what is the reward? A little more self-congratulations by leftists and radicals? You assume this is the "right thing," but it in no way appears to be in a great many eyes. Try bucking the liberal urge to eradicate history to soothe unsoothable feelings, if you want leadership.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 1, 2017 4:06:09 AM

OT, but every major city, including the capital, in the great state of California would have to be renamed under a strict interpretation of the separation of church and state.

I've lived here all my life, but the moronic descent into unseriousness on the left only started in the late 1990s...

Posted by: MM | May 31, 2017 6:54:37 PM

I don't understand the invective.

This is a bad idea and should be rejected. There.

Posted by: anon | May 31, 2017 1:09:59 PM

I find it amazing how little current students know about actual history, yet all the sudden become experts on the histroragraphy of Mr. Boalt through activism. Of course, without that push, they wouldn't even know to be offended to begin with.

There is no heroism or inclusiveness in destroying history to signal virtue and self righteousness. Moreover, it puts you into what historians call a iconoclast movement, known as destructive and sick fanatics that attempt to oplotierate the past in favor of a new utopia, one which is often in reality a dystopia.

Posted by: Bobby | May 31, 2017 11:22:26 AM

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

Posted by: jacob findlay | May 31, 2017 11:15:37 AM

Making a small change, like the one proposed here, to create a more inclusive and respectful environment involves very little risk or effort and would have an astronomical payoff in terms of reputational capital/goodwill. I don’t understand why anyone would be opposed to this name change, given the risk/effort to reward ratio. Doing the right thing is sometimes also the most beneficial thing, even from an entirely cynical and selfish perspective. Critical recommendations for change are sometimes also opportunities for leadership.

Posted by: Saul Templeton | May 31, 2017 10:16:10 AM

Glorious People's Five Year Plan to Eradicate History Is Successful!

But seriously, these loons know they are following the political agenda of a not-particularly-astute dead, wealthy white male, right?

Posted by: jablonski | May 31, 2017 9:46:08 AM

The imagination recoils at possible replacement names: Patrice Lumumba School of Law? Angela Y. Davis School of Law? William Kunstler School of Law?

Posted by: Billiamo | May 31, 2017 9:30:17 AM

Would it not be more fitting to leave the name the same and point up how many Chinese now make up the students using the hall. Thus acknowledging the past racism and showing how the university has gotten past such racism, rather than trying to sweep it away with a new name.

Posted by: Allan E. | May 31, 2017 6:57:22 AM

Rename Boalt Hall for Mary, the Mother of Christ. She is the only person in history able to claim Immaculate Conception, free of Original Sin, avoiding those nasty historical prejudices decried by this Berkeley adjunct.
Plus she is a womyn, plus she is not an American. Win, win, win!

Posted by: Mikee | May 31, 2017 6:27:33 AM

For irony's sake, rename both the ton and campus "Mario Savio"

Posted by: Cato Renasci | May 31, 2017 5:56:56 AM

If the building is renamed, the gift that established it should be returned. With accrued interest.

Posted by: Henry | May 31, 2017 5:48:57 AM

As long as they give the money, along with compounded interest, back to the Boalt family, why not?

Posted by: Joseph | May 31, 2017 5:08:46 AM

Purging all social institutions of any historical context ... I guess we should just assign numbers and random letters to every institution, building, and street instead of a name. In fact, perhaps we should purge people's names. "Reichmann" sounds very suspicious for reasons I'll avoid to prevent invoking Godwin's Law. Even "Charles" reminds one of intolerant English kings of yore who were undoubtedly misogynistic racist totalitarians. Soon we'll be able to object to those random sequences too, as history creates new connotations. This whole passion to rename things is absurd. Grow up, people.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | May 31, 2017 5:08:27 AM

they'd have to rename berkeley also

Posted by: mike livingston | May 30, 2017 9:34:20 PM

If George Berkeley can conclusively be shown to have believed that homosexuality was a sin, should the name of the University be changed?

Posted by: Curious | May 30, 2017 11:50:43 AM