East Calhoun residents speak out against keeping name of pro-slavery historical figure John C. Calhoun

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On Thursday, a Minneapolis neighborhood organization held the first of three meetings about the possibility of no longer naming their neighborhood for John C. Calhoun — a 19th century political figure from South Carolina who was a vigorous proponent of slavery.  Among 15 residents who spoke, there was strong sentiment against continuing to use “Calhoun” in the name of the East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO).

The night’s presentation started with a brief outline of hundreds of years of local history. Taking care on a sensitive political topic, the organization developed an identical script and slideshow to use at each of the meetings.

In the 1830s, a Dakota village called Heyata Otunwe (Village to the Side) existed in a portion of the area now called East Calhoun. In the decades that followed, the area saw an influx of white people, the expulsion of native people, and development into a streetcar suburb of Minneapolis.

In the 1950s, residents of the area formed the East Calhoun Homeowners Orgnanization (ECHO). The name was changed to the East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO) in the 1970s (because it sounded less anti-renter while keeping the same pronunciation).

One speaker was sad and emotional when she heard about the recent court ruling in favor of a group trying to revert the name of Bde Maka Ska back to Lake Calhoun. She said even leaving a side Calhoun’s association with slavery, the neighborhood remains occupied Native American land. Changing the neighborhood name is morally the right thing to do.

A summary of residents’ spoken commentary:

  • Resident heard a professor of Native American studies on the radio. Likes the name East Maka Ska. Doesn’t want a name associated with Uptown.
  • Professor mentions guidelines that universities use to decide name changes for campus. Questions like: Is the principal legacy of this person at odds with the organization’s mission? Were views contested at the time? Says they should not honor John C. Calhoun. No relationship to neighborhood and was terrible guy.
  • “One of the things I love about our neighborhood is for progressive it is… That name causes harm to many people.”
  • “If the lake was named lake Hitler” there would be no disagreement.
  • When she tells people she lives East of Bde Maka Ska, she is tired of people telling her “it will always be Calhoun to me.” Just learn to say the name.
  • She came in without an opinion but has been convinced by speakers tonight.
  • “It’s great to change it.” It’s a chance for a small neighborhood to have a big impact.
  • “I don’t tell people I live in East Calhoun. I’d like to be able to have a neighborhood name where I can tell people where I live.”
  • Wants to keep the same acronym, but change the na me to “Environmentally Concerned Citizens Organization.”
  • Doesn’t like the acronym ECCO.
  • Asks if the logo designer is still around. After being told the designer doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore, she says “good” then feels freed to say she thinks the logo is trash.
  • Real estate agent says the ECCO branding of the neighborhood is no big loss. It’s nothing compared to changing the name of prestigious Linden Hills.

One speaker was even worried a name change would destroy the shoreland overlay ordinance. Proving that all public meetings must have a shoreland overlay reference, no matter how irrelevant.

A name change supporter mentioned her regret that opponents didn’t show up to speak at the meeting. She said they would have been convinced by tonight’s arguments. An ECCO board member said it would have been very intimidating for a pro Calhoun person to take the microphone tonight. 

(This concern for the people who aren’t at the meeting is something I have never experienced at a neighborhood org meeting before.)

The West Calhoun neighborhood organization is also undergoing a name review process. Following the recent court ruling in favor of “Save Lake Calhoun,” members of the Minneapolis Park Board have said they will not be removing the Bde Maka Ska signage around the lake. They’re also starting a process to change the name of Calhoun Parkway.

The East Calhoun Community Organization will hold two more community meetings about a potential name change at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church: May 11 and May 14 from 10 – 11 am.