Despite a court ruling that reversed the renaming of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is moving to scrub the Calhoun name from surrounding parkways and parkland.
A Park Board committee on Wednesday will vote on whether to rename four roads that bear the surname of John C. Calhoun, a staunch supporter of slavery, as Bde Maka Ska. It will also vote on bestowing the Dakota name on what’s now Lake Calhoun Park, the public land that surrounds the lake.
The renaming effort by the Park Board rebuffs last month’s decision by the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources commissioner exceeded his authority when he changed the lake’s name last year. The agency said it would file an appeal with the state Supreme Court but has not yet done so, DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said Monday.
Park Board Commissioner Londel French, who sits on the administration and finance committee that will discuss the name change, said removing the Calhoun name is the “right thing to do.”
“The indigenous folks that have been in this area ... called it Bde Maka Ska,” French said. “That’s the name, and we want to make sure that the adjacent parkways, which we have total control over and total say over, reflect the name of the lake.”
The roads in question are West Calhoun Boulevard, Calhoun Drive, East Lake Calhoun Parkway and West Lake Calhoun Parkway. If the committee votes to rename the roads, the Park Board would then allow 45 days for public comment and hold a public hearing by Aug. 7.
Renaming the parkland would happen immediately once approved by the full board. The board took a similar action last year when it voted to rename part of Riverside Park after conservationist and longtime Commissioner Annie Young.
John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, was a Southern plantation owner who strongly advocated for slavery and the removal of American Indian people from their lands in the 1820s.
“John C. Calhoun was not a nice guy. He definitely was not a nice guy to people who looked like me,” said French, who is black. “I just don’t think that protecting his legacy is what the Park Board should be doing.”
The board formally delineated the process for renaming parkways and roads last month, what many saw as a lead-up to removing the Calhoun name from its properties.
“It’s probably something we should have done when we changed our signs out and when the DNR had restored the name of the lake,” Park Board President Brad Bourn said Monday.
Some local businesses and organizations are also distancing themselves from Calhoun. The Calhoun Area Residents Action Group, a neighborhood organization, was renamed South Uptown last year.
The East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO) has held meetings recently over whether to change the neighborhood’s name. The West Calhoun Neighborhood Council may do the same.
ECCO President Judy Shields said the community reaction on whether to change the neighborhood’s name has been mixed. Shields, a Realtor, said renaming streets could greatly affect the people who live around the lake’s perimeter, who would have to change their addresses on tax records and other identifying information.
“There’s more to it than just a street sign,” she said.
Park Board Commissioner Meg Forney agreed, saying the decision could affect hundreds of residents. She hoped the opinions of the community are taken seriously as it makes decisions.
“It impacts you personally,” she said. “It’s not something to take lightly, let’s put it that way.”
Bourn, however, sees it as a “nominal logistical impact,” and said the Park Board would inform the U.S. Post Office about the new name.
French said he has received e-mails from residents who live on those roads who are unhappy with the potential change. However, he said, Calhoun’s troubling history outweighs any arguments for keeping his name.
“We walk on the streets with the names of people who oppressed us,” he said. “No other two groups I really think have to do that besides native and black folk.”