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70-Ton Boulder That Caused Outcry on Campus Set for Removal

UW-Madison students say Chamberlin Rock serves as symbol of school's racist past
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 20, 2020 2:11 PM CST

(Newser) – A 70-ton boulder that's been a "painful reminder" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will soon be seen no more. Per the Wisconsin State Journal, the college's Campus Planning Committee unanimously voted last week to recommend to Chancellor Rebecca Blank that Chamberlin Rock be removed from Observatory Hill, where it's been perched since being excavated from the side of the hill in 1925. The school's Black Student Union had started calling over the summer for the boulder to be yanked off the hill, noting it reminded students of color of the school's history of racism. The rock itself, which was named after onetime university chief and geologist Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, had been referred to in the past as a "n-----head," a common term in the late 1800s and early 1900s for a large, dark rock or a variety of other objects, like chewing tobacco or stove polish, per the Journal.

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It's not clear how often the term, which more or less vanished by the '50s, was used in the Madison area: The Journal prominently used it once in a 1925 article, per university historians, who say they've had trouble finding other instances due to unorganized archives. But what is clear is that the KKK loomed large in Madison in the '20s, and that people of color were mocked in school publications and comedy skits. "This is a huge accomplishment for us," BSU President Nalah McWhorter said Wednesday. "We won't have that constant reminder, that symbol that we don't belong here." Officials aren't yet sure if they'll move the rock—which may have been carried to the area by glaciers from Canada—to the nearby Ice Age Trail, bury it, or destroy it. The College Fix notes one geology professor wants to see it kept on campus as a teaching tool. Estimates for the rock's removal range from $30,000 to $75,000. (Read more racism stories.)

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