Let’s rename Barrows Hall for Margy Wilkinson

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As part of undoing this country’s legacy of racism, this year, UC Berkeley’s renaming committee approved the denaming of Boalt Hall to the Law Building. This was the result of a journalist noting that John Boalt was overtly racist toward Black people and people with Chinese heritage.

Current proposals to rename buildings at UC Berkeley followed, including LeConte Hall, Kroeber Hall and Barrows Hall. All were named after racist men, as described on the renaming committee’s website. The public is currently being invited to comment on these proposals.

When I read the information about David Prescott Barrows, I wrote in support of renaming Barrows Hall.

I suggest that the new name should honor Margy Wilkinson (1943-2020), who received her bachelor of arts from UC Berkeley in 1966. Wilkinson was a devoted campus community member, working at UC Berkeley for 40 years, leading a strike for pay equality for service workers and acting as a mother to the Cal Band. Moreover, she was an industrious activist for workers’ rights, organizing a local chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, helping to create the Coalition of University Employees — the union for clerical workers, with 19,000 members statewide — and acting as its chief negotiator.

A driving force in the labor movement in the UC system for more than 40 years, Wilkinson demonstrated in the Free Speech Movement and in favor of the Black Panthers and Angela Davis, and was part of many other progressive causes. Her dinner table was a community meeting place for many organizers.

Wilkinson was a leader at KPFA radio and became executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, the national group overseeing KPFA and other independent, listener-supported, progressive radio stations. A leader at KPFA said Wilkinson was known for navigating fractious organizations by listening to everybody, even the people she disagreed with, and was well loved.

Married for 50 years to a forklift driver active in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Wilkinson was a pillar of Berkeley activism. She was a co-founder of Friends of Adeline and diligently fought gentrification in her South Berkeley neighborhood.

Few or no buildings on our campus are named for women. This year, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of UC Berkeley and specifically honoring the many women who helped make it the outstanding school it is today. We look to honor people who pioneered for social justice, organized for workers and fought against racism.

As such, Margy Wilkinson is a perfect fit for the building’s new name.

Nancy Lemon is a member of the UC American Federation of Teachers and a lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Law, where she has taught domestic violence law since 1988.