UW-Madison Takes Anti-Racist Action by Removing 42-Ton Boulder

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The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Photo by Flickr user Phil Roeder

On August 6, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) removed a 42-ton boulder from campus because of its historical connection to racial discrimination. Officially known as the Chamberlin Rock in honor of former university president and geologist Thomas Chamberlin, the boulder was colloquially referred to with a racial slur in the early 20th century.

UW-Madison historians only found one recorded use of the slur to describe the boulder in a 1925 article in a local newspaper, but they noted that the Ku Klux Klan was active on campus at the time. The slur was also regularly used in the 1920s to refer to any large dark rock, The Associated Press reports.

In recent years, the Black Student Union (BSU) and other student groups have called for the removal of the boulder due to its representation of a painful history. Demands for its removal were amplified in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing push for anti-racist action on the part of universities and other entities.

UW-Madison approved moving the rock in January 2021 but had to wait for permission from the Wisconsin Historical Society, as it was located on the campus’ Observatory Hill near a Native American burial site. The BSU worked alongside Wunk Sheek, an Indigenous student organization, to lobby for the boulder’s removal, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

“I’m grateful that we have had the opportunity to do this and that the rock will be removed,” BSU President Nalah McWhorter told the Associated Press. “It was our demand, and it was something that we put all the work in for.”

The rock itself, which is believed to be more than 2 billion years old, has been placed on university land outside of Madison where it can continue to be used for geological education. The relocation process for the boulder.— originally estimated to weigh 70 tons.— cost $50,000, which was paid for entirely by private donations. 

“Removing the rock as a monument in a prominent location prevents further harm to our community while preserving the rock’s educational research value for our current and future students,” Gary Brown, director of campus planning and landscape architecture, stated in the Wisconsin State Journal.

This article was published in our September 2021 issue.