Members of the Berkeley community brought attention to a plaque memorializing brothers Joseph and John LeConte, known for their alleged racist histories.
According to UC Berkeley alumnus David Hillis, campus’s LeConte Hall was named to honor the LeConte brothers, who were members of UC faculty and at the time founded the Sierra Club alongside John Muir. In 2020, the structures constituting what was formerly LeConte Hall were renamed Physics North and Physics South Buildings, and the building formerly known as Barrows Hall is now called Social Sciences Building, due to the former names’ associations with racism.
Despite this, a plaque dedicated to the brothers remains in prominent view on Grinnell Pathway.
“We shouldn’t be honoring racists no matter how much they contributed to the university if UC Berkeley wants to fulfill its goal and mission of being anti-racist,” said Kyra Abrams, chair of campus’s Black Student Union and chief of staff of the ASUC Office of Academic Affairs Vice President.
According to Abrams, Joseph LeConte was a proponent of social Darwinism.
Furthermore, John LeConte supported the Southern states’ secession in the Civil War and worked as a Confederate officer, Abrams noted.
“I think the plaque honoring the Le Conte brothers wasn’t removed from campus despite the Physics North building being renamed in light of their racist histories because the university’s dedication to antiracism is only performative,” said ASUC Senator Gabbi Sharp in an email.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof noted the Building Name Review Committee, or BNRC, that suggested the unnaming of LeConte Hall was only charged with deliberating on building names, and as such, did not consider other “items” honoring the same names.
However, Mogulof added the plaque may fall under the BNRC’s jurisdiction in the future.
“To date, no one has formally proposed removing the LeConte plaque in question,” Mogulof said in an email. “I anticipate that the (BNRC) would move quickly on a vote to remove the LeConte plaque should its removal be proposed.”
Mogulof added that the BNRC recommended leaving an exhibit near the Physics North building to explain the history of the LeConte brothers and why their names were removed to prevent “erasing history.”
Both Abrams and Sharp criticized campus’s bureaucratic process for addressing the removal of items such as the plaque, though Mogulof emphasized campus’s “comprehensive efforts” toward remaining an anti-racist institution.
“I don’t know how Black students will ever be comfortable at a university like Cal when the dedication to anti-racism is only upheld when we are constantly applying pressure to the University to do something,” Sharp said in the email. “We shouldn’t have to constantly convince the University that they should be against racist ideologies and the people who held them.”