Yeah, We Should Rename Lake Calhoun

lake calhounLike previous mass shootings, last week’s terrorist attack in Charleston, SC left me–and the rest of the country–heartbroken. What was even worse in my mind is that in the year 2015, even with the apparent progress that this country has made on the race relations front, there are individuals out there that still hate fellow humans solely based on the color of their skin. It is simply baffling and infuriating.

However, these type of events do cast a very small silver lining, as they allow concerned Americans to question many status quos. As a result of the attack, a growing populace has begun to question ingrained traditions that have quietly resembled ideals now dismissed as lunacy. In South Carolina, there is now a push to take down the Confederate flag, a historic symbol of slavery.

Living in Minnesota, it could be easy to cast judgement on states in the South. What got me thinking this weekend, ironically enough, was the gut-wrenching monologue by Jon Stewart and his downtrodden but painfully realistic observation of the country.

“In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper,” Stewart exclaimed last week.

This racial wallpaper exists in Minnesota, too. In fact, Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis is named after John C. Calhoun, one of the most pro-slavery figures in the history of this country. In a generally progressive state and in a very progressive city which made efforts last year to remove Columbus from his own day, how do we allow ourselves to continue to accept the naming quo?

Consider me part of the bandwagon. KARE 11 had a powerful story on the name a few days ago. A petition to change the name has more than 500 signatures after three days. Everyone go read this article associated with the petition, as it intricately explained the situation better than I ever could.

We should be able to reflect and change the way we associate history with names. This lake is our version.

We should be able to reflect and change the way we associate history with names. This lake is our version.

I fully admit that I was one of those “white Millennials in Uptown” who didn’t second guess Lake Calhoun’s name for the longest time. Even after only a couple days, this effort seems to be gaining momentum. It’s not the first time changing the lake’s name has been attempted–we actually tried changing it in 1890–but with the recent events in South Carolina, it seems like common sense to rid Minneapolis of its racial wallpaper.

Contact the Minneapolis Park Board members. Let them know that we should stop associating a pro-slavery figure with Minneapolis’s most celebrated lake. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

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32 Responses to Yeah, We Should Rename Lake Calhoun

  1. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig June 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Yes, Calhoun was a great proponent of slavery, but for full context, one should note that “Lake Calhoun was named, not after the great nullifier, but in honor of a Lieutenant Calhoun of early days.” (per the 1890 article)

    One key point missing from both this article and the petition, which I think would need to be addressed early, is what to rename the lake to? The 1890 article proposed Lake Mendoza, which it claims was its original name but even this is incorrect (not surprising given the era). Per the state Historical Society, the original Dakota name was Mde Medoza, Lake of the Loons.

    And if we change the lake name, what about streets that are also named after Calhoun? There are also a number of businesses, including local small businesses, with Calhoun in the name. Should they incur costs to change their names as well?

    Not saying that a rename should or shouldn’t go through. But these are concerns that haven’t been mentioned anywhere yet but would need addressing.

    • Doug Trumm
      Doug Trumm June 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

      Let’s split the difference and call it Lake Cal-Loon.

  2. Monte Castleman June 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm #

    I vote for “Lake Politically Correct”. And the Rum River can be “Politically Correct River”.

  3. Matt Brillhart June 22, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    I suggest we quickly pick a different Mr. or Ms. Calhoun to name it after and be done with it.

  4. Matt June 22, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    John C. Calhoun definitely wasn’t a winner. I don’t like to see his legacy memorialized. It would be one thing if he had just voted to support slavery, but he was the champion supporter of the legality of slavery. As much as I don’t want to go through the awkward Willis (Sears) Tower phase, I think it says a lot about our generation if we let the opportunity pass just because we are used to the name.

  5. Matt June 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Apparently some people care or we wouldn’t be having the discussion. If the tables were turned and my ancestors were forced into slavery, I wouldn’t exactly feel welcome in a city that holds up the legacy of a man who vehemently defended the right to own slaves.

    • Joe D June 23, 2015 at 9:38 am #

      Can you honestly believe that the majority or even 10% or even 5% of the African American population of Minneapolis even cares? Nobody takes offence to the name unless it is shoved down our throats as a ‘good’ news story…

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 23, 2015 at 10:14 am #

        Oh, how will you ever survive such a vile “shoving?”

        It’s fascinating when people care so much about not caring about renaming a lake.

  6. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson June 22, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    I’m sympathetic to the burden of changing names for all the institutions and businesses that have grown up around it. If most of Minneapolis wants it changed then the city can go do it.

    I’m also all for pragmatism and the original Sioux name is frankly a mouthful for the unfamiliar.

    Would simply changing it to “Lake Minneapolis” fly?

  7. mplsjaromir June 22, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    John C. Calhoun also married his first cousin once removed. The name needs to be changed as soon as possible.

  8. acs June 22, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Washington owned slaves, Jefferson even kept them after his death, they both supported slavery in their time, yet we still have streets named after them. How are we supposed to go back 200 years later and say of someone, “yes, your other contributions outweigh the fact you supported owning people and we will enshrine your name in the public realm”? Just don’t go down this road. Nobody is perfect.

    • Anders Imboden
      Anders June 22, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

      I think this gets at a larger question: how do we weigh the legitimate accomplishments or deeds of people like Calhoun against their actions that go against our values? Lake Calhoun didn’t receive its name because of Calhoun’s pro-slavery activities, but rather because he ordered the survey that led to the lake’s “discovery” by the U.S. Army.

      By the end of his life (before the Confederacy existed, for whatever that’s worth), Calhoun had earned the scorn he receives today — but many, if not most of his peers from that era who have lakes and streets and other things named after them, were at the very least complicit through inaction in the continuing institution of slavery. Where do we draw the line? It’s really not clear yet from this debate, and I think the burden falls on those who wish to change the name to clarify that. It needs to be a part of the discussion, at least.

      And as an aside, I don’t get why the author thinks being a “white Millenial in Uptown” has anything to do with his unfamiliarity with John C. Calhoun. I suspect that Calhoun is an unknown figure (or at most, a very hazy recollection) to most visitors to Lake Calhoun, regardless of their race, age, or neighborhood of residence.

  9. Cat's Staff June 23, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    How about George Calhoun…

    Sure, he’s associated with the Packers, but at least I can’t find where he said “I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good…”

    If the lakes name is just Lake Calhoun (and not Lake John C. Calhoun…then the only thing we need to do it put up a plaque somewhere near the lake saying “Yeah, we hate the Packers…but we hate racism more. So, this lake is named after George Whitney Calhoun, co-founder of the Green Bay Packers.”

  10. Ignatius J Reilly June 23, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    I personally think it would be a mistake to rename Lake Calhoun. I would rather see this as an opportunity to put up a series of historical placards that would inform current citizens about the person, his role in the antebellum U.S. and events leading up to the our most destructive but, unfortunately, probably necessary war.

    (N.B. Editorial comment following)
    Our poor grounding in and understanding of our (U.S.) history as well as world history has led us into other fiascos (Vietnam is surely a prime example from recent history) and also allowed our leaders at times to mislead us, using our fear & anxiety (“…don’t want the smoking gun……to be in the form of a mushroom cloud…”), into unwarranted follies in places such as Iraq.We NEED TO KNOW where we have been so we can make better sense out of where we think we are trying to go. This is the point George Santayana was making. Thank you for your tolerance if you came this far.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 23, 2015 at 10:20 am #

      You know, that actually sounds like a really good idea.

    • Peter Bajurny June 23, 2015 at 10:31 am #

      I think I agree with this more than anything, as well.

      As Anders said above, Lake Calhoun isn’t “honoring” Calhoun, certainly not the same way Jefferson Davis Highway or the Confederate flag being flown honors the Confederacy. Those probably probably shouldn’t be honored (though it’s a vague line, nobody is 100% evil or 100% good and honorable). But regardless, these people should be remembered.

      The fact that the Lake is named after Calhoun is just a quirk in history that is in no way related to his pro-slavery activities. It’s an unfortunate situation for us, but it does provide an opportunity to educate.

    • Daniel Herriges June 24, 2015 at 8:13 am #

      This. Having a lake named for Calhoun for reasons unrelated to his pro-slavery activities is an accident of history. It’s nowhere in the same realm as flying a Confederate flag, which is a conscious statement of support for certain values the flag represents. This is a name given long ago which has taken on associations unrelated to its origin – it’s an iconic Minneapolis location and its name should stay. If you’re going to change the name to avoid the appearance of honoring a famous racist, there are a *lot* of names that one could argue the same about. Few from that era are morally pure by modern standards. How many of Minnesota’s own founding fathers were complicit in genocidal policy toward Native Americans, for example?

      More important is to let it be a teaching moment – Twin Cities schoolchildren should learn who Calhoun was, the good and the bad.

      • Alison June 24, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

        I’m not sure why the name needs to be kept the same in order for schoolchildren to learn Minnesota’s history. To me, it is more meaningful for the people of today to give the name that is meaningful to us if the old name has become abhorrent. Let that be the lesson schoolchildren read in history books.

  11. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller June 23, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    I’m not sure I’d equate having a lake that is maybe named after John C. Calhoun, which really, few people probably realize or know much about, is the same as having major thoroughfares named after Jefferson Davis or a state park named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, so I have some sympathy for the “why bother” sentiment.

    But on the other hand, why not? How much will it costs to replace the signage? Are there other costs (btw, I wouldn’t assume that businesses that use it will change their names)?

    • ae_umn June 23, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

      I’ve been told in the past that changing names can be quite expensive for things like streets, in part because of businesses, homes, etc. all needing to update their addresses (so some of this cost is privatized).

      But why wouldn’t they change the names? If Lake Calhoun is too offensive, why would Calhoun Parkway also be offensive? And once you change the name of the lake and the street, what purpose would having names like Calhoun on office buildings, kinda-sorta malls, apartment buildings, neighborhood names, etc?

      I mean, if all we’re going to change is the lake’s name and nothing else, then it kind of defeats the purpose.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

        ” And once you change the name of the lake and the street, what purpose would having names like Calhoun on office buildings, kinda-sorta malls, apartment buildings, neighborhood names, etc?”

        Purpose? It’s the name of the business. Why would they have to change it? And if they choose too, why would we care about that cost? No one is forcing them to change it.

        “I mean, if all we’re going to change is the lake’s name and nothing else, then it kind of defeats the purpose.”

        How? The significant landmark – and piece of public property – has had it’s name changed. Isn’t that the purpose?

        • ae_umn June 23, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

          The original point was that it isn’t just some arbitrary name you have to change. There’s an actual cost both to the public sector (signs, maps, street poles, etc.) and there are private costs (business cards, postage, signage, any print items you’re listed in).

          That’s not a judgment call on whether or not it should happen. But it’s something that should be thought through as the change happens because the economic impact certainly exists.

          • Monte Castleman June 25, 2015 at 6:24 am #

            I like the suggestion in the Star Tribune comments section that if we’re going to change the name, we sell naming rights to pay for it. Wells Fargo Lake, anyone?

  12. Steve June 23, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    While we’re at it, we need to rename Albert Lea. Name after Albert Miller Lea, an officer in the Confederate army.

    • mplsjaromir June 24, 2015 at 8:47 am #

      Excellent idea!

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig June 24, 2015 at 8:55 am #

        Albert Lea may have been a Confederate officer, but the reason his name adorns the city is because he surveyed lakes and streams across northern Iowa and southern Minnesota (including Freeborn County) in the 1830s. The name also pre-dates the Civil War.

  13. Alison June 24, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    Keeping the name “Lake Calhoun” is just lazy (if not passive racism) once we know the history of John Calhoun. Hell, he wasn’t even Minnesotan! Let’s give this beautiful lake a name we can be proud of.

  14. Caddy Kolstad June 25, 2015 at 12:57 am #

    Minnesota was the first state to commit troops to the Union Army. Mn Regiment #1. The Army base that became South Minneapolis contributed these solders who fought in many of the major battles and sustained heavy casualties, many of the solders who survived fought with valor in the entire war.

    This is what we should be talking about when the Civil War and confederate symbolism comes up in relation to our community.

    It is kind of funny that as secretary of war J.C. Calhoun authorized Ft. Snelling and that this fort ended up becoming the base for the State that was the first to send troops to fight the Confederacy.

    This is a great opportunity to teach history.

  15. Bob R. June 29, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Why are you such a sissy? It’s just what we call a lake. Nobody cares. Calhoun was an asshole, so let’s just call it something else. No big deal.

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