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University of Wisconsin moves rock seen as symbol of racism

August 6, 2021 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin removed a large boulder from its Madison campus on Friday at the request of minority students who view the rock as a symbol of racism.

Chamberlin Rock, on the top of Observatory Hill, is named after Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a geologist and former university president. Students of color on campus say the rock represents a history of discrimination. The boulder was referred to as a derogatory name for Black people in a Wisconsin State Journal story in 1925.

The derogatory term was commonly used in the 1920s to describe any large dark rock. University historians have not found any other time that the term was used, but they said the Ku Klux Klan was active on campus at that time, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

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University Chancellor Rebecca Blank approved removing Chamberlin Rock in January but the Wisconsin Historical Society needed to sign off because the boulder was located within 15 feet (4.6 meters) of a Native American burial site.

The rock will be placed on university-owned land southeast of Madison near Lake Kegonsa. The university plans to erect a plaque in Chamberlin Hall to honor the former university president, school spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said.

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. It was previously estimated to have weighed up to 70 tons, but an updated measurement shows it weighs 42 tons. It will continue to be used for educational purposes at its new site.

The Black Student Union led the call to remove the rock last summer. Crews began removing it just before 7 a.m. Friday, securing it with straps and lifting it with a crane before moving it to a flatbed truck. It cost an estimated $50,000, covered by private donations, to remove.

Juliana Bennett, a senior and a campus representative on the Madison City Council, said removing the rock signaled a small step toward a more inclusive campus.

“This moment is about the students, past and present, that relentlessly advocated for the removal of this racist monument,” she said. “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, said he was glad to see the rock go,

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