Berkeley Removes Name of Racist Lawyer

January 31, 2020

The University of California, Berkeley, removed John Henry Boalt’s name from its law school building on Jan. 30, acknowledging that the 19th-century attorney’s racist, anti-Chinese speech outweighs the contribution made to the school in his name more than 100 years ago.

Boalt appealed to California state lawmakers in the late 1800s to bar Chinese immigrants from entry into the U.S. and aggressively dehumanized them, according to a paper written by law lecturer Charles Reichmann in 2017. Boalt wrote in a paper, “The Chinese Question,” that Chinese “heartlessness and inhumanity toward the infirm, the feeble, and afflicted of his own race shock every sensibility of our nature.”

Boalt’s arguments were “instrumental” to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the law school said in a press release about the name change. Two committees at Berkeley recommended the school remove Boalt’s name and input “a visible public record” so it is not “erasing a difficult history,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law, in the school’s press release. The building itself will be formally renamed to the Law Building.

“Campuses across the country are dealing with similar questions and I think that our careful investigation and civil discussion hopefully can be a model for others grappling with these difficult issues,” Chemerinsky said.

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