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UC Berkeley Law School strips itself of racist namesake

University of California at Berkeley
Posted at 10:25 AM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-30 18:45:09-05

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The law school at the University of California, Berkeley has stripped itself of a 19th century namesake who espoused racist views that led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

John Boalt's name was removed from a school building Thursday after a three-year process. University officials say this is the first time UC Berkeley has removed a facility's name due to the character or actions of its namesake.

The name removal comes as institutions around the country re-assess the people honored with their monuments, streets and buildings. Last year, San Francisco removed a statue long deemed racist by Native Americans.

“It’s incredibly important to confront racist symbols, like John Boalt’s name on a building, because these symbols act to reinforce the history of white supremacy in our institutions,” said Paul Fine, a university professor and co-chair of the Building Name Review Committee.

Oakland attorney John Henry Boalt was never a student or teacher at the law school, but after he died in 1901, his widow Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt put up money to construct a Boalt Memorial Hall of Law.

Students and alumni have long referred to themselves as Boalties and the law school was casually referred to as Boalt Hall.

It wasn't until 2017 that attorney and UC Berkeley law lecturer Charles Reichmann found Boalt’s racist writings and publicized them.

Boalt had moved to California from Nevada in the 1870s, at a time when Chinese immigration was rising to meet labor demands. And as president of the influential boys-only Bohemian Club, he delivered an address in 1877 arguing that the Chinese could never assimilate and so should be removed.

The movement filtered up and in 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act.

University officials say this is the second time the University of California system has removed a benefactor's name. In 2018, UC Irvine removed the Ayala name from two buildings after an internal investigation substantiated sexual harassment claims against Francisco J. Ayala.