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University of Wisconsin removes boulder from campus after students say the rock is symbol of racism, citing one news article from 1925

The University of Wisconsin removed a large boulder from its Madison campus on Friday because two student groups complained that the rock was a symbol of racism. Just before 7 a.m. on Friday, crews began securing straps to the Chamberlin Rock on the top of Observatory Hill at the UW-Madison campus in Madison, Wisconsin. A crane was used to load the boulder on a flatbed truck, which transported the rock to another location.

The boulder is named after Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a 19th century geologist and former university president. The university excavated the 42-ton boulder and placed it on the top of Observatory Hill to honor Chamberlin.

“The boulder is a rare, large example of a pre-Cambrian era glacial erratic that experts say is likely over 2 billion years old. It 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,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

However, one news article from nearly 100 years ago referred to the rock as a racial slur, so now the rock must go. A Wisconsin State Journal story from 1925 called the rock a derogatory name for black people, which ignited a campaign to have the boulder removed despite the report that “historians have not found any other time that the slur was used” in regard to the Chamberlin Rock.

The Black Student Union and Wunk Sheek, an Indigenous student organization on campus, started a campaign to remove the rock last summer. The student groups called for the school’s administration to remove the “racist” rock. In January, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank approved the Chamberlin Rock to be relocated, but the Wisconsin Historical Society needed to sign off on the removal because the boulder was located within 15 feet of a Native American burial site. The Wisconsin Historical Society gave permission to remove the rock last week.

“The Wisconsin Historical Society and the tribes support the placement of the important artifact on university-owned land,” Kara O’Keefe, Wisconsin Historical Society spokesperson, said. “Its placement does not cause an adverse impact on any cultural or historical resources.”

Juliana Bennett, a senior and a campus representative on the Madison City Council, said removing the rock would allow BIPOC students to “begin healing.”

“This moment is about the students, past and present, that relentlessly advocated for the removal of this racist monument,” she told the Associated Press. “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.”

Kenneth Owens, a Madison resident of 20 years, said he was happy to see the rock go.

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

Thomas Crowder Chamberlin will receive a new plaque in a building already named after him.

The boulder has been moved to publicly accessible land near Lake Kegonsa that is owned by the University of Wisconsin, where it can be used for educational purposes by the geoscience department.

“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 university’s director of campus planning and landscape architecture, said.

Brown said the estimated cost of removal was about $50,000, which was funded by private donations.

In June 2020, student groups at the University of Wisconsin demanded that an Abraham Lincoln statue be removed. The student groups claimed the statue of Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, is anti-black and anti-Native American.

“I just think he did, you know, some good things … the bad things that he’s done definitely outweighs them,” Wisconsin Black Student Union president Nalah McWhorter told the Badger Herald. “And I do want the 100% removal of the statue. I don’t want it to be moved somewhere or anything like that. I want it removed.”

The school rejected the request to remove the Lincoln statue.

University of Wisconsin removes boulder seen as sign of racism

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