UC Berkeley removes 'Boalt Hall' name from law school after discovery of namesake's racist speech

The University of California, Berkeley removed the legend "Boalt Hall" from the facade of its main law school building Thursday, severing an association dating back more than 100 years.

The decision to de-name the hall was the culmination of a process that lasted nearly three years and was launched after Charles Reichmann, a lecturer at the school, discovered a racist speech delivered in 1877 by the prominent Bay Area lawyer John Henry Boalt.

In a statement, the university said Boalt was "instrumental in legitimizing anti-Chinese racism and in catalyzing support for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 -- the nation's first immigration ban on a specific group of people solely on the basis of race or nationality."

"Yet," they wrote, "until 2017 his views weren't well known on campus."

According to the Berkeley Library News website, Reichmann discovered the speech in the university's Bancroft Library while researching the debate on Chinese immigration. Boalt's speech included remarks like: "Two non-assimilating races never yet lived together harmoniously on the same soil, unless one of these races was in a state of servitude to the other" and adds that "It would certainly seem that in an extreme case of divergence as between extermination and this kind of reconciliation, the former were the more agreeable alternative."

"This is a really racist document," Reichmann told the Berkeley Library News, "and it’s not just a level-handed, prudential, 'We should limit immigration for the good of the commonwealth.' It’s way beyond that."

Boalt himself never attended or taught at the university. His name was attached to the law school after his widow, Elizabeth, allocated two parcels of San Francisco land valued at $100,000 into a trust to be sold for the university to construct a hall in her late husband's honor. Those properties were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but in 1911 the university named the newly-erected Boalt Memorial Hall of Law in recognition of Elizabeth's generosity.

In 1951, the school moved to a larger facility and the regents changed the school's name to the UC Berkeley School of Law from the School of Jurisprudence. The name Boalt Hall was given to the main classroom wing of the law school but for decades many of its students and graduates referred to the entire school as Boalt Hall.

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Only one other de-naming is known to have occurred in the 10-campus University of California system. In 2018, UC Irvine removed donor Francisco J. Ayala's name from its biological sciences school and central science library after sexual harassment claims against him were substantiated.

"I am saddened to see my great university following the herd of other colleges that are selectively editing American history," UC Berkeley Professor of Law John Yoo told Fox News. "The answer to the sad moment of the past is not to remove people and events from our collective memory, but to remember them and learn from them."

"Shall we next re-sculpt Mount Rushmore because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves and Roosevelt liked war -- closer to home, shall we end the Jefferson lectures at Berkeley for the same reason?" Yoo asked. "Shall we edit out the names of the chancellors and university leaders who worked on the nuclear bomb because the politically sensitive on campuses today reject that WWII ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki?"

A 2018 report by a law school committee tasked by Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky to assess whether the name should still be used concluded that Boalt's  "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," the report read.

A 13-member Building Name Review Committee, assembled by UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, voted to recommend the removal of Boalt's name from the building. The decision was then approved by Christ and UC system President Janet Napolitano.

In a letter to Napolitano, Christ wrote that "Removing the Boalt name from our campus -- as well as acknowledging our historical ties to John Boalt -- will help Berkeley recognize a troubled part of our history, while better supporting the diverse membership of today's academic community."

For decades, many of the UC Berkeley School of Law's students and graduates referred to the entire school as Boalt Hall.

For decades, many of the UC Berkeley School of Law's students and graduates referred to the entire school as Boalt Hall.

However, in accordance with the vote to strip the name, the committee recommended that the law school "present the relevant history as part of a commitment to restorative justice."

"This cannot be about erasing a difficult history or forgetting all of the years that the name Boalt was used and why it was changed," Chemerinsky agreed.

Boalt Hall will now be known as The Law Building. The law school complex includes three other buildings -- Simon Hall, North Addition, and South Addition.

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

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"Institutions dedicated to the search for truth should not find it in their mission to add and delete from that truth for reasons of current political correctness," Yoo stated.

Instead, he argued that Berkely should have used Boalt's name as the "starting point" for further "debate and discussion of his attitude toward the Chinese, the late 19th-century treatment of immigrants, and questions of race then and today."

"It is only by remembering and discussing these events, rather than pretending they never happened, that we will make sure they don't happen again," Yoo concluded.