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Minneapolis Lake Calhoun Named for Defender of Slavery and Secession

I love Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Right there, just a few blocks west of Hennepin Avenue, right south of one of the Twin Cities’ great bicycle expressways, sits this nice round lake, the biggest jewel of the chain of lakes that grace the lovely western side of Minneapolis. Forget staying at a motel out on the freeway; when we visited the Cities last month, we stayed at an Airbnb apartment just two blocks from Lake of the Isles and six blocks from Lake Calhoun. Beautiful!

But it never occurred to me that Lake Calhoun is named for John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina Senator, proponent of slavery, and progenitor of a rabid states’ rights conservatism that led his fellow Southerners to betray the Union and spark the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the Civil War:

John C. Calhoun, racist states' rights secessionist... not a very pleasant fellow after whom to name a lake.
John C. Calhoun, racist states’ rights secessionist… not a very pleasant fellow after whom to name a lake.

Want to know who John C. Calhoun is? He’s the guy who quit as second in line to the president to make sure slaves stayed slaves.You heard me. He was the living, breathing number one crusader for slavery.To Commissioner Bourn, that isn’t right.”I think Minneapolitans and Minnesotans have a different set of values than what — when you really think about it — the name of Lake Calhoun represents,” [Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Brad] Bourn said.

The namesake is even worse to former Park Board Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson.

“Is that what we want to honor? In our community? Is that what we want to say is important to us? I think not,” Anderson said [Jana Shortal, “Push to Change the Name of Lake Calhoun,” KARE-TV, 2015.06.19].

In response to the racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, a Minneapolis man revived discussion of changing the name of Lake Calhoun. Given Calhoun’s role in undermining the fabric of the nation and promoting slavery and racism, changing the name of this beautiful Minneapolis lake seems at least as appropriate as changing the name of South Dakota’s highest mountain.


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-23

    This is a perennial discussion for Minneapolis. There aren’t very many years when it’s not mentioned. I think a change of name is a good idea, but I don’t think there is much impetus behind the push. Most people are like Cory, not aware that John C. is the guy being honored, since Calhoun is not an uncommon name.

  2. El Rayo X 2015-06-23

    What was the name of that life long slave owner guy we named our nation’s capital city after again?

  3. mike from iowa 2015-06-23

    Chef Pierre,maker of high pies/

  4. owen 2015-06-23

    Guy looks pretty scary. Related to Grud??? I wonder?

  5. grudznick 2015-06-23

    Owen, I can’t say I knew the man but he does dress up snazzy like I used to when I went out on the town. But my pa was a big Union man and did not hanker much to the folks who hailed from Cackalacka.

  6. owen 2015-06-23

    I hope you know Grud I was just having fun?

  7. grudznick 2015-06-23

    It’s OK, Mr. Owen, I rather like the way the fellow looks, even though I inherited a healthy distrust of Cackalakians myself.

  8. Rich 2015-06-23

    I think I’ve seen Mr. Calhoun as a ‘walker’ on The Walking Dead … I lived one block from Lake Calhoun when I lived in Minneapolis. Had no idea of the legacy behind the name. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Roger Elgersma 2015-06-23

    Why do we usually need to have a disaster before we make a good change. Partly because some devils like the old way. When the S. Carolina flag was at half mast for the terrorist act, the confederate flag on the capital grounds was flying high.
    Here in South Dakota we could change the name of Shannon County which honored someone who did not to right by the tribe that lived there to Oglala Lakota county without a disaster to make it happen. That is the right way to do things. For once Minnesota could follow our example.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-23

    El Rayo, that would be George Washington, whose immoral enslavement of human beings somehow didn’t stop him from creating a new nation and leading it through its first years of Constitutional government.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-23

    Oglala Lakota County, maybe Hinhan Kaga… interesting, Roger, that those changes came about through civil discourse, sans crisis. Maybe we know something that South Carolina doesn’t?

  12. Porter Lansing 2015-06-24

    Hey! There’s an ELEPHANT in the “changing room”. And it’s the disrespectful names and epithets used in High School mascots nicknames across the state. Just because Native nations lost a war to USA doesn’t mean their legacy can be slandered forever. e.g. USA lost a war to Vietnam. Does that give Vietnam a right to name their national soccer team THE SNIVELING POW’s?

  13. Roger Elgersma 2015-06-24

    LOL Porter, good point.

  14. jake 2015-06-24

    POrter, you certainly hit the nail (snail?) on the head! EGO and power are so evident in human relations and naming of things. Thank God our mothers didn’t name us in words that described some of the pain they experienced in birthing us, eh?? Just read David Norquist’s post pn use of the “N” word. Fantastic

  15. mikeyc, that's me! 2015-06-24

    Lets just change any offensive names
    to “Sanford.” Problem solved.

  16. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-24

    How ironic is this?

    The address for Emanuel AME Church is 110 Calhoun St. Yes, the street is named for John Calhoun.

  17. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-24

    Mikeyc, that’s hilarious! Thanks.

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