Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis's racist lake [Update]

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A new petition wants the racist "Calhoun" out of Lake Calhoun.

The next time you and your paramour lock hands during a sunset stroll around Lake Calhoun, know that in doing so you're supporting the violent oppression of black people.

OK, that's not exactly true. But that Calhoun fella the urban super pond was named after was a big fan of slavery. And a growing number of people aren't cool with that.

Following the Charleston, S.C., shootings, a Minneapolis man launched a petition to change the name of one of the city's most popular puddles. You see, John C. Calhoun was a South Carolina senator, vice president and staunch advocate of slavery. During his stint as President James Monroe's Secretary of War, Calhoun ordered the establishment of what became Fort Snelling. Apparently, he got a lake named after him out of the deal.

In just a few days, the petition started by Mike Spangenberg has attracted 980 supporters and counting.

“Calhoun went as far as to call slavery 'a positive good,'” states the petition addressed to the Minneapolis Park Board Commission. “His name and legacy should not be honored anywhere. In the wake of the tragic white supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston, SC, it is critical that we actively reject white supremacy and all symbols thereof.”

Presumably most people don't care for racist undertones while renting paddle boats, so it's not the first time someone has pointed out Calhoun's bigotry. In 2011, Minneapolis resident John Winters also objected to the name, suggesting it should instead honor Hubert H. Humphrey.

Obviously, Waters' attempts failed. Back then we reported that the Minneapolis park board couldn't legally change it even if it wanted to, according to the board's attorney at the time. The state's commissioner of natural resources might have once had the power, but only within 40 years after the lake was first named.

So, we might be stuck with a racist-named lake. But try not to let it bum you out the next time you go Rollerblading.

Update: There may be hope for Calhoun haters after all. Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn says the board had authority to swap out the name back in 1890 and rechristened it Lake Mendoza — mendoza being a loose derivative of the Dakota word for loon lake. Although it clearly didn't stick, it may not have been legally changed again.

"This may still be the only legally enforceable name of the lake which under state law would have become permanent around 1930," Bourn writes in an email.

The board's staff and lawyer types are currently looking into it.

Send news tips to Michael Rietmulder.


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