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Monday, November 12, 2018

UC-Berkeley Law School Confronts Racist Legacy Behind Boalt Hall

UC Berkeley BoaltFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  Los Angeles Times, UC Berkeley Law School Confronts the Racist Legacy Behind its Famed Boalt Hall:

For more than a century, UC Berkeley's elite law school has been closely tied to the name of the building that houses it, Boalt Hall.

Law school alumni have affectionately referred to themselves as “Boalties.” The Boalt name has been attached to more than 120 organizations, public forums and positions related to the law school — including its alumni and student groups, endowed chairs, school directory and Facebook page. Over time, in the California legal community, many people simply came to call the law school Boalt Hall.

But the revelation that John Henry Boalt, a 19th-century San Francisco attorney, was virulently anti-Chinese has rocked the school and plunged it into the national debate over what to do when honored historical figures turn out to have unsavory pasts. The Berkeley controversy comes as other schools, such as Stanford, the University of San Francisco and Cal State Long Beach, are reexamining California’s past and changing building names or dropping mascots associated with those who kept slaves or mistreated Native Americans and Asian Americans.

Boalt, the public now knows, was instrumental in pushing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — the nation’s first immigration ban on a specific group of people. In one influential treatise, he wrote that the Chinese were unassimilable liars, murderers and misogynists who provoked “unconquerable repulsion.” Public sentiment against Chinese immigrants had grown in the 19th century as more than 300,000 came to California as laborers.

A few scholars were aware of Boalt’s racism, but it became widely known only last year when Charles Reichmann, a Berkeley law lecturer, published an op-ed and law review article [Anti-Chinese Racism at Berkeley: The Case for Renaming Boalt Hall, 25 Asian Am. L.J. 5 (2018)]. This month, law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky plans to announce whether he will move to strip the Boalt name from the school’s main classroom building and elsewhere.

The dean also must decide what to do about two endowed chairs established by Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt, who specified the professorships carry the family name. She also donated $100,000 in memory of her husband in 1906 to help build Boalt Hall. ...

Similar issues are haunting the University of California’s first law school, Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. The college founder, Serranus Clinton Hastings, served as the first chief justice of California’s Supreme Court and donated $100,000 to establish the law school.

But Hastings promoted and financed expeditions to hunt American Indians for profit and sport. That little-known history was widely circulated last year after an op-ed piece by John Briscoe, a San Francisco attorney who teaches law at Berkeley and Hastings. Now the college has commissioned a scholar to investigate Hastings’ treatment of California’s Indians and formed a review committee to decide how to move forward.

The two law schools face issues more complex than dropping a mascot, which Cal State Long Beach recently did with “Prospector Pete” after protests that Gold Rush settlers promoted the mass killing of Native Americans. Proposals to drop names specified as terms of philanthropy must be approved by the state attorney general, said Charles Cannon, Berkeley law school’s senior assistant dean.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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I think they should give back the Boalt money. And then give back any donation from anyone who holds or held homophobic, transphobic, misogynististic, racist or capitalist/exploitive/colonialist views. Going forward, there should be a vetting procedure implemented to ensure that no funds from anyone guilty of wrongthink are accepted in the future.

Posted by: brad | Nov 12, 2018 2:19:22 PM

Does Berkeley ever think about anything except race?

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Nov 13, 2018 4:20:55 AM

There's a huge difference between acknowledging history (and the imperfections of one's ancestors by today's standards) and trying to erase it. Those who try to erase it it, rather than teach about it, are doing civilization no favors.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Nov 14, 2018 5:14:06 AM

"The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." Boalt left a legacy. That was a good thing. He was also a racist. That was a bad thing. Today's progressives would like to obliterate all recollection of good things Boalt did because they guy who did it is now better understood as a bad guy.

Boalt supported education. In doing so, he was "progressive." In the 19th century and into the early 20th century, progressives subscribed to beliefs that seemed to them to have the support of science. See in this connection George William Hunter, PhD's A Civic Biology Presented in Problems." This was the text through which John Scopes wished to present to impressionable students in Tennessee Darwin's notions of Natural Selection. Hunter's discussion of Natural Selection in the context of plants and animals not surprisingly led him to wonder if it would be "...unfair to ask if the health and vigor of future generations of men and women on the early might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection." The momentum of this inquiry, of course, pushed the discussion to Eugenics and beyond. You'll be interested to know that as late as 1914, Hunter (and many others) had confidently divided mankind [oops, a bad word] into exactly "five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure." I won't bore you with where this all leads other than to note that it fully confirms the wisdom of Chief Justice Roberts in writing, “It's a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.”

Better than expunging the names and memory of progressives like Boalt, Hunter and Scopes, today's progressives would do better to remember them as examples fallible human beings trying to do right and sometimes succeeding, but sometimes getting things wrong. It is, after all, theoretically possible even in the 21st century that a progressive could sometimes be mistaken.

Posted by: Joseph W. Mooney III | Nov 14, 2018 6:34:10 AM

Mr. Mooney -- I congratulate you on your fair-mindedness.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Nov 14, 2018 1:04:45 PM