BERKELEY — Goodbye Boalt Hall and hello The Law Building.
UC Berkeley School of Law removed John Henry Boalt’s name from its campus building, saying the 19th century Oakland attorney was a racist, according to UC Berkeley News. It will now be known as “The Law Building.”
(Courtesy Berkeley Law photo by Alex Shapiro)
The name change was sparked after UC Berkeley lecturer Charles Reichman found Boalt’s racist writings at a campus library and published his findings in 2017. He discovered that Boalt helped fuel anti-Chinese racism in the country in a 1877 address to the Berkeley Club titled “The Chinese Question.” The address led to Congress enacting the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first immigration ban to target a group of people based on their race or nationality, according to the school.
Boalt Memorial Hall of Law was built in 1911 for what was then the UC School of Jurisprudence. When the school moved to a bigger building in 1951, it became what is known today as the UC Berkeley School of Law, and Boalt Hall became the main campus wing, according to the school.
Graduates of the law school have been dubbed “Boalties” over the years.
“His principal public legacy is … one of racism and bigotry … John Boalt’s positive contributions to the university do not appear to outweigh this legacy of harm,” states a 2018 report by a law school committee, which was ordered by Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, according to the school. The committee was tasked with reviewing if the name should be removed from the building.
It was Boalt’s wife, Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt, made a donation in her husband’s name after he passed in 1901. The Building Name Review Committee co-chair, assistant professor Paul Fine, told this news organization in an interview Thursday that the committee found Boalt had no real ties to the university.
“What it basically came down to…did the person do anything substantially important to the university?” he said.
But Boalt didn’t attend UC Berkeley, and didn’t teach at the school; it was only his widow’s contribution in his memory that became why the building was named after him. His so-called legacy, was the anti-racist address he gave.
“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 Fine in a statement. “And, they can make students who learn about this history then feel excluded, like there is an endorsement of that racism by the institution itself.”
In November 2018, Chemerinsky said in a public statement that about 60 percent of the 600 people of the Berkeley law school community, including alumni and current students, who responded to a survey favored eliminating the Boalt name from the building. He said those attending the law school at the time who identified as people of color overwhelmingly favored the name change.
“I find this a very difficult question. I am reassured, though, that ultimately this is about a symbol, not the substance of the law school,” Chemerinsky said in the 2018 statement.
He recommended the campus Building Name Review Committee rename the wing. The committee unanimously agreed to the name change in October, and it was then approved by Chancellor Carol Christ and UC President Janet Napolitano.
UC Berkeley’s name change comes as a growing trend to rename or remove names of buildings at academic institutions. In 2018, Stanford University announced it would rename campus buildings and areas that included the name of Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century founder of the California mission system. This rose after findings that Serra inflicted harm and violence on Native Americans. In 2019, the university renamed a student dorm and academic building after Sally Ride and Carolyn Attneave.
There have been a handful of public school districts that have also taken to consideration of renaming buildings, such as Alameda school in 2019 and two schools in Palo Alto in 2018.