Some Demand Alameda Rename Calhoun Street
Name strikes chord with Black Lives Matter movement across country
Calls have surfaced in Alameda to rename Calhoun Street. This is part of a nationwide effort to remove street names that honor people tainted with racism.
William Worthington Chipman and Gideon Aughinbaugh established the Town of Alameda in 1854. They named the first three streets from south to north for men that history recalls as the Triumvirate: Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster.
If the city decides to name Calhoun Street for someone else, it would touch on a 19th-century precedent. The Town of Alameda’s Webster Street became Fillmore Street, after the City of Alameda was established in 1872. The new city had a more prominent Webster Street on the West End.
Chipman and Aughinbaugh named a second set of streets for eight United States presidents in the order they held office: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison
Among these presidents, neither John Adams nor his son John Quincy Adams owned slaves. Adams Street recalls both these men. Jefferson was a slaveholder who lost “his street” when the streetcar system absorbed it as part of San Jose Avenue.
The same thing happened to Monroe. The South Pacific Coast Rail Road laid its tracks along Monroe Street, which then morphed into a stretch of Encinal Avenue. President Harrison’s street later became part of Central Avenue.
This leaves four streets in the old Town of Alameda named for men who owned Black slaves: Washington, Monroe, Jackson and Van Buren.
Today, people across the country are demanding that cities and towns change street names that honor those who owned Black slaves. If the city meets these demands, it could move to change the names of these streets.
These changes might also include Clay and Webster streets. Kentuckian Henry Clay also owned slaves. While Daniel Webster did not own slaves, activists remind us that with Calhoun and Clay, Webster espoused the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the compromise that admitted California to the Union.
In allowing the state of California into the Union in 1850, the Triumvirate placed a price on this permission. They insisted that Congress include this act among the five items in legislation called the Compromise of 1850.
The Fugitive Slave Act allowed the federal government to hire bounty hunters to find and return escaped slaves to their owners, even if the slaves had taken refuge in a free state like California. The act also set up courts to “try” escaped slaves. And what of Alameda’s Fillmore Street? President Milliard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law.
The movement to change these street names reminds Americans that Black slave labor played a role in the accomplishments of many prominent White men. Some counter that the ownership of slaves does not overshadow their owners’ contributions to history. History must not forget these men or their accomplishments. History must, however, acknowledge the roles Black slaves played in the lives of these presidents.
Yet a third group says that Black slaves played no roles in these men’s accomplishments. We have no need to remember Black slaves when we speak of these White statesmen.
Why the stronger demand to rename Calhoun Street? People protesting George Floyd’s death vandalized Calhoun’s monument in Charleston, S.C., and called for the removal of the 127-year-old tribute to Andrew Jackson’s vice-president. The City of Charleston responded by first placing a chain-link fence around the monument. Then on June 24, the city dismantled the monument and removed Calhoun’s 12-foot-tall, 3-ton statue from its 115-foot-high pedestal. Calhoun’s name has now become a target for removal across the country.
Where voters and activists stand on this name-change issue will play out in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 General Election. Alameda has already experienced the change of Haight School to Love School, erasing the memory of Gov. Henry Haight, a man many point to as a racist. In addition, the proposal to change the name of Jackson Park is currently before the Parks and Recreation Commission.