Could 'chain of lakes' be Isles, Harriet - Humphrey?

A Civil War history buff wants Lake Calhoun's name changed because John C. Calhoun was passionately pro-slavery. The lake's name has been debated before, but changing it is no small matter.

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The view of Lake Calhoun from Tin Fish restaurant.

Photo: Brendan Sullivan, Star Tribune

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John Winters, it seems, can't get enough of Civil War history. Now, the Minneapolis retiree hopes that knowledge helps bring change to the city's biggest lake.

He is asking that the Park Board rename Lake Calhoun to Lake Humphrey.

The request would swap the lake's longstanding dedication to John C. Calhoun, history's most passionate pro-slavery orator -- and a South Carolinian, no less -- with a nod to Hubert H. Humphrey, the homegrown civil rights champion.

Winters, a retired computer programmer who lives near Lake Harriet, is not the first to suggest dropping Calhoun's name. A 1993 proposal seeking to restore the lake's original Indian name went nowhere.

His request to the board Wednesday came under a 1999 policy that allows nominations to name or rename a park or facility so long as there's no "political or frivolous motivation."

Dawn Sommers, a Park Board spokeswoman, said that consideration by the board "is not automatic." An assistant superintendent will review the request and recommend how to proceed, she said. If the board decides to consider the change, it would conduct two hearings, and would be prohibited from acting for at least two years.

That, she said, "shows it is a serious process."

Winters, 65, has known of Calhoun's slavery stance since grade school, he said, and can recite passages from his speeches by memory. He said Friday that he decided to push for the Lake Calhoun name change after a recent disagreement with his sister about the root cause of the Civil War.

Humphrey, he said, deserves recognition in the city where he served as mayor for spurring the Democratic Party in 1948 to add a civil rights plank to its platform.

In addition, he said, Humphrey has gotten the "short end" of it lately, with the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome now carrying the name "Mall of America Field" for Vikings games.

Lake Calhoun, middle of the popular "chain of lakes'' trio that includes Lake of the Isles to the north and Lake Harriet to the south, was named long before the Park Board's creation in 1883. One theory has the lake being dedicated to Calhoun in recognition of his 1817-25 stint as secretary of war, when he ordered the establishment of Fort Snelling.

But he also was part of "the great triumvirate" of orators who dominated politics during the first half of the 19th century, engaging in debates that foreshadowed the Civil War.

In 1836 he told the U.S. Senate that slavery as a permanent institution in the South was not a matter open to debate: "The relation which now exists between the two races has existed for two centuries," Calhoun said. "We will not, cannot, permit it to be destroyed ... come what will, should it cost every drop of blood."

The first hearing on a name change would be within six months, if the board moves ahead with a review.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109

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