University of Wisconsin moves Chamberlin Rock, seen as symbol of racism

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University of Wisconsin moves Chamberlin Rock, seen as symbol of racism

The University of Wisconsin has removed a 70-ton boulder from its Madison campus at the request of minority students who viewed the rock — which was referred to by a slur for blacks — as a symbol of racism.

Chamberlin Rock atop Observatory Hill — named after Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a 19th-century geologist and former university president – was at least once referred to as a “n—–head” rock in a 1925 article in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Minority students have complained that the rock represents a history of discrimination. The derogatory term was commonly used during the 1920s to describe any large, dark rock.

University historians have not found any other time that the term was used, but they said the Ku Klux Klan was active on campus at that time, according to the newspaper.

University Chancellor Rebecca Blank approved removing Chamberlin Rock in January but the Wisconsin Historical Society needed to sign off because it was located within 15 feet of a Native American burial site.

The massive rock – a rare example of a pre-Cambrian era glacial erratic that experts say is likely over 2 billion years old — will be placed on university-owned land southeast of Madison near Lake Kegonsa, where it will continue to be used for educational purposes.

Chamberlin Rock had a long history of racism for minority students.
Chamberlin Rock had a long history of racism for minority students.
Kayla Wolf/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

“Removing the rock as a monument in a prominent location prevents further harm to our community while preserving the rock’s educational research value for our current and future students,” Gary Brown, the director of campus planning and landscape architecture, told the Wisconsin State Journal.

The boulder was carried by glaciers from as far north as Canada and dumped on Observatory Hill along with billions of tons of other debris when ice receded from the state about 12,000 years ago.

It was previously estimated to have weighed up to 70 tons, but an updated measurement shows it weighs 42 tons.

The school plans to erect a plaque in Chamberlin Hall to honor the former university president, according to school spokeswoman Meredith McGlone.

Last summer, the Black Student Union led the call to remove the rock. On Friday morning, crews lifted it with a crane and placed it on a flatbed truck at an estimated cost of $50,000, which was covered by private donations.

The Black Student Union led the call to remove Chamberlin Rock from campus.
The Black Student Union led the call to remove Chamberlin Rock from campus.
Kayla Wolf/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

Juliana Bennett, a senior and a campus representative on the Madison City Council, said removing the boulder signaled a small step toward a more inclusive campus.

“This moment is about the students, past and present, that relentlessly advocated for the removal of this racist monument,” she said. “Now is a moment for all of us BIPOC students to breathe a sigh of relief, to be proud of our endurance, and to begin healing.”

Local resident Kenneth Owens said he was glad to see it gone.

“It’s not the rock’s fault that it got that terrible and unfortunate nickname,” he said. “But the fact that it’s … being moved shows that the world is getting a little better today.”

With Post wires

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