The following letter, opposing a name change for Lake Calhoun, was sent to MPRB Commissioner Anita Tabb on July 15, 2015 from Lawrence Salzman, Commodore of the Calhoun Yacht Club and the Director of the Sailing School. It is posted here with his permission.
The recurring issue of changing the name of Lake Calhoun seems to have gained some traction recently and I think it only fitting to provide the perspective of the Calhoun Yacht Club and the Lake Calhoun Sailing School regarding this issue. As you may be aware, the Calhoun Yacht Club was founded in 1901 and may be the longest standing organization to bear identity with the name Lake Calhoun. The Sailing School in its current form was established in 1989. Many prior versions reach back to the 1940s and before. Obviously, changing the name of the lake would doom the institutional identity of our organizations unless we were to keep the original names, an awkward alternative.
The members of both our organizations are unanimous in their opposition to a name change for reasons beyond our identity. Most are skeptical that a name change will do more than satisfy the wishes of a small, passionate, vocal minority. I believe that most of our members are sympathetic to their view that John C Calhoun, as a supporter slavery and repression, should not have been “honored” by having our lake named for him. However, selectively viewing our history in this fashion opens a can of worms. Nine US presidents were slave holders, including Washington, Jefferson (‘all men are created equal’), et al. Even Lincoln, who hated slavery, was early-on in favor of allowing the southern states to keep slavery to preserve the union. All of their names have achieved iconic status in our society.
John C Calhoun had qualities that offend our sensibilities, but expunging his name, I fear, will have little long term effect on racist attitudes in our populace. Far better, in my mind, would be to commit increased resources to promote better understanding of racism and its corrosive impact. Changing the name of Lake Calhoun is a quick and temporary band aid on a deeply entrenched systemic malady.
Historian Stephen Ambrose said the following in his discussion of the founding fathers who were also slave owners: “Slavery and discrimination cloud our minds in the most extraordinary ways, including a blanket judgment today against American slave owners in the 18th and 19th centuries. That the masters should be judged as lacking in the scope of their minds and hearts is fair, indeed must be insisted upon, but that doesn’t mean we should judge the whole of them only by this part.”