The president of Macalester College in St. Paul wants to remove the name of founder Edward Duffield Neill from an on-campus building because of racist views he expressed in his writings.
The Mac Weekly, the school’s student newspaper, reported Thursday that President Brian Rosenberg announced the decision during a recent faculty meeting and said he submitted a formal recommendation to the Board of Trustees.
“He said initially he was skeptical about the renaming issue,” said professor Patrick Schmidt, who was in attendance at the meeting. “He said he assembled a bunch of readings, but it took him five minutes to realize how virulent those writings were.”
Rosenberg confirmed with the publication that he expects a final decision from the board “very soon” as well as an outline for “the process going forward.”
He reportedly received a round of applause from faculty during the meeting and credited a recent issue of The Mac Weekly as a factor in his decision. A 12-article October issue of the student publication took a deep dive into the history of the school’s founder and published excerpts from a number of his writings.
According to the student paper, Neill was “a white supremacist and eager participant in the settler-colonization of Minnesota.”
“The white man was at once acknowledged, the Indian being judge, superior to the savage race with which he had come in contact … The inferior race must either recede before the superior, or sink into the common mass, and, like the raindrops falling upon the bosom of the ocean, lose all traces of distinction,” Neill wrote in his “History of Freeborn County.”
He advocated for the forced assimilation of Native Americans and promoted a policy known as allotment, which divided the communal lands of indigenous peoples into private plots.
Neill opened schools and Presbyterian churches across the state, helped found the Minnesota Historical Society, and was eventually appointed as the private secretary of President Abraham Lincoln. He was friends with some of the state’s earliest governors, such as Alexander Ramsey and William Marshall, and founded Macalester College in 1874.
In a letter from the editors printed in the October edition, the student journalists write that Neill was a “man of multitudes,” but “his sins were legion, and they are unforgivable.”
“That’s why, starting next week, we will no longer use the name Neill Hall in our publication. We will instead refer to the building by its old name, the Humanities Building, until a new name is chosen for it,” states the letter. “We are also calling on Macalester College, its administration and Board of Trustees to live up to its stated values and take Neill’s name off of a building in which its staff, faculty and students work and learn.”
The building was renamed from Humanities Building to Neill Hall in 2013 by the Board of Trustees because the generic “Humanities Building” could be a source of confusion for students and visitors since most of the humanities departments are actually housed in a different building.
Student activists at the University of Minnesota pressured administrators earlier this year to rename four campus buildings that took their names from administrators who supported segregation in residence halls. The school’s Board of Regents, however, rejected the renaming plan.
Rosenberg confirmed his decision with local media Friday, saying it was “based on the racism reflected in [Neill’s] historical writings, which are extreme even by the standards of his time.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Macalester College” by Appraiser. CC BY-SA 2.0.