Turns out that Serranus Hastings amassed his fortune by killing some 300 Native Americans and enslaving countless more, but these revelations are not deterring the law school from keeping his name.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Serranus Clinton Hastings (1814 – 1893), founder of the prestigious law school UC Hastings, has ugly history of ordering the mass-killing of nearly 300 Native Americans and enslaving as many as thousands in the northern California Yuki Tribe. Heck, we didn’t even know this until the New York Times ran a historical exposé on Serranus Hastings just this morning. And this is probably not common knowledge among famous UC Hastings alumni like Vice President Kamala Harris, congressional representative Jackie Speier, the late San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, and — hey-o! — Da former Mayor Willie Brown.
But this has been an open secret in legal academia for a few years. Back in 2017, amidst the discussion of renaming Phelan Street to no longer honor the legacy of James “Keep California White” Phelan, the Chronicle published an op-ed by UC Hastings adjunct professor John Briscoe entitled The Moral Case for Renaming Hastings College of the Law.
“Serranus Clinton Hastings was promoter and financier of Indian-hunting expeditions in the 1850s,” Briscoe wrote, condemning Leland Stanford for the same. “Their ability to acquire land titles was facilitated by the massacre of the rightful claimants, a near-extinction they promoted and funded.”
Turns out that Hasting did not acquire his real estate fortune through business acumen, but by merely hiring killers to wipe out members of the Yuki Tribe and then just claiming the land as his own. UC Hastings acknowledged this last year in a Recognition and Reconciliation statement, but other than an offer for pro bono legal help for tribe members, the whole move seemed merely symbolic.
Dean David Faigman and the school’s board of directors said their path to reconciliation was “acknowledging truth, honoring the memory of the victims, uplifting their descendants, and building bridges where none existed before. We have already begun a dialogue with the Yuki people—the tribe most directly targeted by Serranus Hastings and his agents—in an effort to define opportunities for collaboration, growth, understanding, and friendship.”
But their plans did not then and do not now include changing the school’s name. “Changing the name, given the secondary meaning that it has acquired after 142 years, could lead to public confusion about our identity,” they wrote in a 52-page assessment. “This, in turn, could result in a decline in applications and perhaps a loss of philanthropic and alumni support.
It’s instructive to read the words of H.L. “Texas Boy” Hall, who by his own admission slaughtered countless Native people in Mendocino, and put strychnine on their crops, all as Hastings’ hired hand. SFGate dug up Hall’s testimony in an incident where he and his crew had already slain the adult males of a tribe, and were left with the “care” of the remaining women and children.
“I saw one of the squaws after she was dead; I think she died from a bullet,” Hall testified. “I think all the squaws were killed because they refused to go further. We took one boy into the valley [reservation], and the infants were put out of their misery, and a girl 10 years of age was killed for stubbornness.”
We bring up this quote because of his use of the term “squaw.” That has been in the news, as the former Squaw Valley Ski Resort recently changed its name to Palisades Tahoe, uncomfortable with the racist association of the name.
So if a goddamned ski resort can do it, UC Hastings, seems like a prestigious, megabucks law school should be able to do the same.
Image: Rieman & Co. via Wikimedia Commons