Floyd’s death a tipping point for Calhoun names

Institutions in Southwest move away from old lake name

Calhoun Square
Calhoun Square’s new ownership group, Northpond Partners, removed the large sign adorning the building on June 20. A new name for the shopping mall has yet to be announced. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

The name George Floyd will be memorialized in Minneapolis, but his death may serve as a tipping point for removing a name once omnipresent in the city.

Major institutions in Southwest Minneapolis have announced their intention to rebrand themselves to remove the name “Calhoun” since Floyd was killed. Shopping centers, gyms and apartment buildings have announced plans to distance themselves from the legacy of John C. Calhoun, a 19th century vice president who was a proponent of slavery and a leading designer of some of the nation’s most damaging policies toward Native Americans, and played a role in crafting the Indian Removal Act.

“It’s something we’ve been hoping would happen for a long time,” said Carly Bad Heart Bull, executive director of the Native Ways Federation.

When Floyd was killed, the monuments started to topple and names began to change nationwide. Now, Calhoun Square, the Calhoun Beach Club and the Calhoun Towers apartments have all announced intentions to change their names, and other organizations are examining changes more seriously than before.

Bad Heart Bull was involved in the process of restoring the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska to Lake Calhoun, a process that formally ended when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in May that the Department of Natural Resources had the authority to change the name of the lake.

In Minneapolis, the debate over the name had been of interest to Native American activists for years but gained prominence in 2015, when the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board first added signage recognizing the Dakota name.

lake-calhoun-dakota-name sept 2015

To Bad Heart Bull, the changes were bound to happen eventually, and she wasn’t surprised that Floyd’s death reinvigorated the conversation over names.

“Like many issues that are being elevated right now, this isn’t a new conversation, but there are more people joining the conversation,” she said.

In Southwest Minneapolis, Calhoun Square’s new ownership group, Northpond Partners, removed the large sign adorning the building at Lake & Hennepin on June 20 when it announced it would “expedite” its process to rename the mall “in solidarity with Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter Movement.” The firm is “actively working with members of the community” on a new name for the building, according to Alistair Parry, a vice president at Northpond.

The Calhoun Beach Club, a large apartment complex and gym on the north side of the lake, sent an email to residents and members that it will remove “Calhoun” branding in the coming weeks and will work on a new name for the building. A spokesperson from the building’s parent company, Amico, said the process by which the new name will be chosen is still being determined.

Calhoun Towers, a large apartment building west of the lake, will now be known as West Lake Quarter, according Colleen O’Brien, a leasing specialist with the building. Bader Development, which owns the tower, recently began work on an expansion that will bring 746 new units across four buildings to the area. The company is in the process of changing its signage and intends to be fully transitioned to West Lake Quarter branding by the end of the year. For now, she said, the company is using both names so they don’t lose business.

“When Lake Calhoun changed, we knew we were going to take Calhoun out of the name,” O’Brien said.

The West Calhoun neighborhood is also likely to change its name in the near future, according to board president Allan Campbell. The neighborhood had been scheduled to discuss the name at its annual meeting in May, but that was postponed due to COVID-19 until August. The neighborhood association has surveyed residents about the name and received many more emails this spring asking for a change to be made. With the state Supreme Court ruling in May and the flurry of name changes after Floyd’s death, the momentum seems to be there, he said. The board will vote on whether to change its name to West Lake at its July 14 meeting.

“We don’t want to push off the issue of the name too long,” Campbell said.

John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the U.S., was the namesake of Southwest Minneapolis’ largest lake and many nearby entities. The Southerner was a staunch defender of slavery and helped design Indian Removal policies in the 1820s. Several local entities have announced they will remove Calhoun’s name from their titles since George Floyd was killed. This daguerreotype was taken by Mathew Brady in 1849.

West Calhoun would be the third Southwest neighborhood to remove the vice president’s surname from its title. The Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) changed its name to South Uptown in 2018 and the East Calhoun Community Organization voted last year to be redubbed simply as its former acronym — ECCO — stripped of the words it once stood for.

Others may be changing, too. Chris Martin, a writer and poet who lives in ECCO, said he reached out to several entities to ask about name changes in an attempt to seize the moment. He said representatives with the Ackerberg Group told him the firm would be changing the name of Lake Calhoun Center on the north side of the lake. Messages left with the company seeking to confirm the change have not been returned.

Martin, who studied local Indigenous culture and history during a residency at the Minnesota History Center, said he hopes groups will consider using the Dakota language when selecting a new name and try to learn about Native American history here. Bad Heart Bull said she would like to see more Dakota language in the right context and that she’d be happy to help any group considering that type of name change.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to reacquaint yourself with where you live,” Martin said.

When Luke and Mary Breen changed the name of their Hennepin Avenue bike shop from Calhoun Cycle to Perennial Cycle in March 2016, they thought plenty more would be changing alongside them. It was an awareness thing, Luke Breen said. Once they learned that the lake was named for a man who advocated for slavery and played a key role in repressing Native Americans, changing that name was the obvious right move. Breen assumed others would change once they learned, too, and was surprised when that didn’t happen.

When the shop rebranded as Perennial, people reacted with either curiosity or support, he said, and the positive responses have far outweighed the negative. In late June, he received an email from a first-time customer in Seattle who’d read the store’s blog post explaining their name change and thanked them for the move. The store hired a marketing company to come up with a new name and logo and had some concerns about their branding and name recognition, but Breen said they are happy with the change.

“It was scary, it was expensive, but six months later it felt so good,” he said.

Three years ago, Bad Heart Bull gave birth to her son in a medical office at Lake Calhoun Center. She was grateful to have him in a place where her family had such a connection and history.

During the debate over restoring the Bde Maka Ska name, she said, those opposed would say the act was erasing history or didn’t matter. But she thinks the name is about making space for collective history and that resistance to changing names from Calhoun shows how ingrained white supremacy is in everyday life.

“It’s so symbolic of the larger issues we have as a region and a nation,” she said.