UC Berkeley Removes Name of Lawyer Who Pushed for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley “denamed” a law school building named after a lawyer whose views led to the promulgation of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The move, announced on Thursday, is the result of a three-year process that commenced after a lecturer discovered the racist writings of John Henry Boalt, who argued that two “non-assimilating races” — the Caucasian and Mongolian races — “never yet lived together harmoniously on the same soil, unless one of these races was in a state of servitude to the other.”

 

Boalt, who resided in Oakland, was neither a student nor a teacher at the law school. But the Boalt Memorial Hall of Law came to existence after his wife, Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt, donated $100,000 for the university to construct the building, following his death in 1901.

After its erection in 1911, the Boalt Hall served as the UC School of Jurisprudence. When operations moved to a larger facility in 1951 — heralding the establishment of the UC Berkeley School of Law — the name Boalt Hall was given to the main classroom wing.

John Henry Boalt. Image via University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Through the years, Boalt Hall evolved as a reference to the entire building complex and to the law school itself. Graduates have also been nicknamed “Boalties.”

In 2017, Berkeley lecturer Charles Reichmann stumbled upon Boalt’s problematic writings while researching Asian experiences in California. He focused on Boalt’s 1877 address to the Berkeley Club, titled “The Chinese Question,” which argued that “the Caucasian and Mongolian races are non-assimilated races.”

UC Berkeley
Charles Reichmann. Image via Irene Yi / University of California, Berkeley

In his speech, Boalt stressed that the assimilation of races is necessary for the “internal harmony essential to a nation’s property and perpetuity.”

He listed five reasons why such an enterprise might fail: (1) physical peculiarities, (2) intellectual differences and differences of temperament, (3) differences in language and customs, (4) hatred engendered by conquest or by clashing of national or race interests and (5) religious fanaticism.

Image Screenshot via American Experience PBS

Boalt’s speech arrived at a time when Chinese immigrants came in waves to the United States. Ultimately, his speech, which spread widely, ended up in a report of California’s Senate Special Committee on Chinese Immigration submitted to the Congress.

As a result, 95.8% voted against continued Chinese immigration in the 1879 general election in California. By 1882, the issue had already become national, leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

UC Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley carpenter Joe Poppi removes “Boalt Hall” from the side of the building. Image via Roxanne Makasdjian / University of California, Berkeley

Signed by President Chester Arthur, the Chinese Exclusion Act provided “an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration.” This marked the first time federal law had prevented the entry of an ethnic working group under the impression that its members endangered “the good order of certain localities.”

Under the law, non-workers who sought entry to the U.S. must obtain certification from the Chinese government to prove that they can immigrate. Meanwhile, Chinese people who had already entered the country were also required to obtain certifications if they chose to leave and return.

Image Screenshot via Berkeleyside

“At first, I wasn’t sure what to do with what I had found, but after a while, it began to seem disconsonant, unbearable, even, to be among so many students with a Chinese ethnic background, indeed, a great many from China itself, when the man for whom the classroom building is named denied their humanity,” Reichmann told UC Berkeley News. “I don’t think everyone is obligated to feel that way about a man who died in 1901. But I couldn’t escape the fact that I did, so I decided to make Boalt’s views on the Chinese better known.”

Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky formed a committee to investigate the matter, which led to a formal proposal to the university’s Building Name Review Committee to remove Boalt’s name from the hall.

Image via Alex Shapiro / University of California, Berkeley School of Law

“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,” Professor Paul Fine, co-chair of the Building Name Review Committee, told UC Berkeley News. “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.”

The former Boalt Hall will now simply be called The Law Building.

“Proud to no longer be a Boaltie,” alumnus Jane Kim, who is running for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, tweeted at the announcement of Boalt’s removal in 2018.

“Boalt described Chinese immigrant laborers as murderers/thieves + successfully lobbied for US’ first race ban- the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. His name will be stripped from UC Berkeley Law School building. #TimesUp.”

Feature Images via Berkeley Law (left) and UC Berkeley (right)

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