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UC Berkeley Law School drops name of lawyer who pushed for Chinese Exclusion Act

John Boalt, whose name was removed from a school building Thursday, had argued in 1877 that the Chinese could never assimilate and should be removed.
UC Berkeley carpenter Joe Poppi removes lettering saying \"Boalt Hall\" from the side of the Berkeley Law building early on Jan. 30, 2020.
Joe Poppi, a carpenter at the University of California, Berkeley, removes lettering saying 'Boalt Hall' from the side of the Berkeley Law School building on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.Roxanne Makasdjian / UC Berkeley

The law school at the University of California, Berkeley has stripped itself of a 19th-century namesake who espoused racist views that led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

John Boalt's name was removed from a school building Thursday after a three-year process. University officials say it is the first time UC-Berkeley has removed a facility's name because of the character or actions of its namesake.

The removal comes as institutions around the country reassess the people honored with their monuments, streets and buildings. Last year, San Francisco removed a statue long deemed racist by Native Americans.

"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 Paul Fine, a professor of integrative biology who is a co-chair of the Building Name Review Committee.

Oakland lawyer John Henry Boalt was never a student or teacher at the law school, but after he died in 1901, his widow, Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt, put up money to construct Boalt Memorial Hall of Law.

Students and alumni have long referred to themselves as Boalties, and the law school was casually referred to as Boalt Hall.

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It wasn't until 2017 that Charles Reichmann, a law lecturer at UC-Berkeley, found Boalt's racist writings and publicized them.

Boalt had moved to California from Nevada in the 1870s, at a time when Chinese immigration was rising to meet labor demands. And as president of the influential boys-only Bohemian Club, he delivered an address in 1877 arguing that the Chinese could never assimilate and should be removed.

The movement filtered up, and in 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

University officials say it is the second time the University of California system has removed a name. In 2018, UC-Irvine removed the name "Ayala" from two buildings after an internal investigation substantiated sexual harassment claims against Francisco J. Ayala, a longtime faculty member.