Lake Calhoun: Wasting Civic Time

The following letter dated June 25, 2015 from Minneapolis Resident David Higgins was sent via e-mail to Commissioner Brad Bourn and the three at-large commissioners.   It is posted here with the author’s permission.

Lake Calhoun: Wasting Civic Time

Commissioner Bourn,

I believe you are wasting civic time and perhaps your own time with your campaign which borders on frivolous. I freely stipulate that there are proper names and nicknames which give offense to people, often those who are least empowered to seek redress. The examples are plentiful.

Like many cities, states and countries, we have many places named after people whose ideas, deeds and attitudes are contemptuous or at least distasteful to an enlightened contemporary population. Minneapolis is no exception. A walk across Northeast Minneapolis will have you passing the signposts of a succession of slaveholding Presidents who had nothing to do with our city. Minneapolis has an avenue at both geographic ends named for General Sheridan who, depending on the source, may have voiced or just thought about his preference for dead Indians. Highway 55, Olson Memorial Highway, is named for a beloved governor who, upon further review, was probably a crook. The list is very long.

When I was an eighth grade American history student at Ramsey Junior High in Minneapolis, Mrs. O’Connell taught us about the highlights of the long,  combative legislative path toward the Civil War. Calhoun got his mention as a politician and theorist who was an important part of that journey. His ideas about slavery and states’ rights were reprehensible viewed through our long backward looking lens of history, but were very much in the center of  American mainstream political debate prior to 1860. Mrs. O’Connell may have  failed to mention Calhoun’s 1817 pivotal role in the establishment of Fort  Snelling. But when the civic leaders in earlier Minneapolis, after flirting with the native names, chose to name Lake Calhoun, which part of Calhoun’s career  do you suppose they were honoring? Be honest, now…


What, Mr. Bourn, is your point? Your scholarship? Your outrage? Your urge to settle an old score? Do you feel compelled to return the lake to its native name? Which local geographical features did not have a native name? Which, then, will be next on your path to righteousness?


Commissioner, we have a lot to do in our city which is really important, some of which is in the province of the Park Board. I was wrong in my earlier characterization of this crusade as bordering on frivolous. It has already crossed the border. As Mrs. O’Connell would and did say, “Stop this at once, young man.”


Best regards,
David M. Higgins