Below is a letter just in from a noted Berkeley Professor friend, whose name for obvious reasons I shall hide.
Le Conte was one of the mid‑19th Century most famous and respected American natural scientists, thus his name on science awards etc.
But, as was common he was also a slave-owner and wrote and researched on negro intellectual inferiority, hardly unusual at the time. Indeed it wasn’t until about 1980, for quite amusing reasons (autopsies on London taxi‑drivers brains) that it was only first realised that IQs are not genetically fixed as hitherto believed and instead, that the brain works just like a muscle, that is use it and it will grow.
Historic revisionism is infantile and potentially endless. For example, there’s vigorous debate about whether the bible endorses slavery and racism. It’s pointless. No Christians today believe in slavery, in line with today’s values. Philosophy students study Plato of Aristotle, both defenders of slavery, without offence being taken, but instead seeing it in the context of the times.
This type of contemporary revisionism in universities (the same nonsense is occurring in Britain about names on buildings and the like, of accomplished figures from the past who owned or were involved in the slave trade) is simply a form of book‑burning.
Every society has at some stage had slaved as part of its social structure. Let’s remember which ones ended it, specifically British and American abolitionists.
Coincidently when my friend’s letter came in I was reading the much acclaimed American writer Valerie Martin’s award winning 2003 novel “Property” about slavery in the early 19th century southern States plantations. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Finally, the moment I’ve been waiting for! Our dean told me Friday that my department needs to change the name of our below annual award to undergraduates:
“JOSEPH LeCONTE AWARD IN NATURAL HISTORY
The Joseph LeConte Award honors a great natural historian, one of the first five faculty appointed to the University of California at its inception in 1868. Joseph LeConte significantly influenced the development of science at the University of California in three ways: he lectured and wrote on geology and on evolution and life of the past, he acquired collections of fossils for the University, and he influenced students greatly with his enthusiasm for learning. He was important in both the Museum of Paleontology and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.”
because some undergrads and higher admin are objecting to LeConte’s background in slavery and his various non-scientific writings:
This follows efforts to remove the name LeConte from the physics department building, and also elsewhere in Berkeley.
I told him that it was hypocritical to go after LeConte and not after our namesake Berkeley, who after all was also a slaveholder. He then blew up at me and said “I have to seriously downgrade my estimation of your intelligence.”
See the kind of nonsense that this historical censorship brings on?! It’s really quite remarkable and irritating. So I kicked the whole problem off to our fellowships & awards committee. It’s probably worthwhile starting a petition to rename our university, and indeed the city of Berkeley, just to see what media coverage might ensue.