The UC Berkeley School of Law has officially removed the Boalt name from Boalt Hall, the campus building that has been synonymous with the law school almost since its founding, in recognition of racist remarks made by its namesake.
Oakland attorney John Henry Boalt never attended Berkeley Law and nor did he teach there, but after he died in 1901, his widow Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt donated funds that helped the construction of what would be called Boalt Memorial Hall of Law, which was completed in 1911. Boalt Hall, as it was known, is no longer in its original location on campus — the original building was renamed Durant Hall, and a new law school building completed in 1950 took on the Boalt name. For decades, alumni from the school have called themselves "Boalties," and until a rebranding campaign encouraging the use of "Berkeley Law" in 2008, the law school itself was often referred to as Boalt Hall.
But after Berkeley law lecturer Charles Reichmann wrote a 2017 opinion piece in the Chronicle detailing Boalt's legacy of racism against Chinese immigrants, a movement began to scrub Boalt's name from the campus. This week, as the university explains, Boalt Hall becomes the first campus building to have a name removed for reasons of "its namesake's character or actions."
"John Boalt’s positive contributions to the university do not appear to outweigh this legacy of harm," wrote Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky in a 2018 report. And a building name review committee that was formed specifically to provide a recommendation on Boalt Hall decided his name should be removed, and Chancellor Carol Christ and UC President Janet Napolitano agreed.
“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,” says Berkeley professor Paul Fine, who co-chaired the Building Name Review Committee.
The New York Times writes that UC Berkeley's move "comes as institutions around the country are grappling with what to do with schools, buildings and chair positions that are named for people whose legacies don’t stand up to modern scrutiny." And as Reichmann noted in his op-ed, the University of San Francisco recently dropped the Phelan name from a campus building because the onetime U.S. senator and SF mayor had once run on a campaign with the slogan "Keep California White."
In the case of Boalt, the smoking gun was an 1877 speech he gave to the Bohemian Club in San Francisco titled “The Chinese Question,” in which he argued that with slavery being illegal, a non-assimilated race needed to be removed from society because it could not longer be properly subjugated. Boalt wrote that Americans look at the Chinese with "an unconquerable repulsion which it seems to me must ever prevent any intimate association or miscegenation of the races."
So, bye Felicia. No more Boalt Hall, no more Boalties. The building will now simply be called The Law Building.
Next up, as the renaming committee further recommended, the law school will "present the relevant history as part of a commitment to restorative justice."