A New Name for Calhoun Street in Alameda

A New Name for Calhoun Street in Alameda

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Drew Dara-Abrams started this petition to City of Alameda City Council

October 2021: Alameda City Council has finally adopted a new policy for how to consider renaming a street. We're collecting as many signatures as we can from Alameda residents to re-submit this petition to them soon. If you live in Alameda, please sign and share with your neighbors and local groups. See also the petition to rename Godfrey Park.

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Dear neighbors on Calhoun Street,

When my family and I moved here, we were excited to live on a pleasant and walkable street in Alameda. It’s proven to be a great place to live. The name of Calhoun Street is less appealing. I remembered enough from middle school history class to know of John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a promoter of a slavery, although I misremembered his exact role as a South Carolina senator until reading up on Wikipedia recently:

"Later in life, Calhoun became known as the "cast-iron man" for his rigid defense of white Southern beliefs and practices. His concept of republicanism emphasized approval of slavery and minority states' rights, as particularly embodied by the South. His concept of minority rights did not extend to enslaved African Americans; he owned dozens of slaves in Fort Hill, South Carolina. Calhoun asserted that slavery, rather than being a 'necessary evil,' was a 'positive good'."

Calhoun’s name is well-known enough to stand for something more specific and more negative than simply being a senator from the past.

My family and I are still newcomers to this street and don’t want to overstep—at the same time, it’s perhaps helpful to ask with fresh eyes: do we all want to have a street here in Alameda named after John C. Calhoun in 2020?

Some points of comparison:

  • Calhoun College was a one of Yale University’s original residential colleges. After a multi-year process and much deliberation, the university retired the name in 2017 and renamed it Grace Murray Hooper College (after a Yale graduate and creator of one of the first computer programming languages).
  • Lake Calhoun was the largest lake in Minneapolis surrounded by a great city park; it was named by US Army surveyors in the 1800s. After years of consideration, multiple government agencies decided to change the lake’s name to reflect what the Dakota people previously called it: Bde Maka Ska.

I’ve found it interesting to read more about both of these renamings. There’s more about Yale’s process at https://president.yale.edu/decision-name-calhoun-college Particularly useful is a distinction they quote from a historian named Robin Hinks:

“In one conception, history is a record of things from the past that should not be forgotten.  In this view, removing an item from the historical record is like lying.”

“In a second conception, however, history is the commemoration and memorialization of the past. Commemoration, Winks noted, often confers honor and asserts pride. It can also convey mourning and loss. Either way, commemoration expresses values. In this second conception of history, a change in the way a community memorializes its past offers a way to recognize important alterations in the community’s values.”

This second idea of using history and names to show our current values seems most appropriate for this moment in time.

If you agree with this sentiment, please sign this petition. I’d also like to invite you to share your own thoughts: is there another name that would honor the place and the people who live here? is there value in keeping the current name but adding a second/alternative name? Other ideas?

I hope we can gather enough signatures and interest to bring the name of Calhoun Street to the City of Alameda Planning Commission in July.

Please only sign if you currently live in the City of Alameda. If you would like to help to prepare this for the Planning Commission, please email me at dda@dara-abrams.com

Some related petitions and websites:

  1. Petition to Rename Jackson Park
  2. "The East End’s Tie to South Carolina" Alameda Sun
  3. "Put Place Names in Proper Context" Alameda Sun
  4. City of Alameda naming policy
0 have signed. Let’s get to 1,000!
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