It is a curious fact that the campaign against racist rocks goes back at least to the 1990s. Plymouth Rock received the memory hole treatment at the hands of “Native People” in 1995 Still, the scope of the crusade appeared to be limited to the spot where the original Yankee liberals allegedly landed in 1620. But now that the biggest targets—Confederates, Columbus, Stephen Foster, etc. etc.—are nearly all down, the struggle moves on.
An interesting boulder lay buried in the ground on the University of Wisconsin campus until 1925, when it was unearthed, placed on a hill, and dedicated to the memory of Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a geologist and former president of the university. An article describing the excavation of the rock included a then-common expression for such lapidary lumps, using a word that is spoken all the time by blacks but may never be even whispered by whites.
The New York Post reports that, “University historians have not found any other time that the term was used, but they said the Ku Klux Klan was active on campus at that time, according to the newspaper.” [University of Wisconsin moves boulder seen as symbol of racism, by Yaron Steinbuch, NY Post, August 9, 2021] Except for students in search of a way to make the Man jump to their will, no one saw anything offensive about the stone; and no one seems to have found anything reprehensible about Mr. Chamberlin either. So, of course, the stone had to go.
According to Gary Brown, the university’s director of campus planning and landscape architecture, quoted in the Post ‘‘Removing the rock as a monument in a prominent location prevents further harm to our community while preserving the rock’s educational research value."
Ah, prevention of harm! What can’t be justified by those comforting words?
The story inspired the following poem:
“Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us…”
The revolution runs so rapidly,
Farce treads upon the heels of tragedy.
Way back in 1925,
When few here present were alive,
A man with horses and a winch
Dragged slowly uphill, inch by inch,
A granite stone of awesome size,
A weighty geologic prize.
“Glacial erratic,” some folks said,
In vulgar terms, a “n*****head.”
Too large to be a f*****head,
If it had been a b***** head,
It might have stayed in place.
O fateful word, o hateful stone!
Who would have thought; who could have known?
O cursed shovel, wicked spade!
(Can I say spade?) Mistakes were made.
They set it up for all to see;
So, for almost a century,
The campus reared a racist rock.
Now it is gone, we must take stock:
Whiteness, arraigned, stands in the dock.
The faculty are still in shock
And weep in their disgrace.
Hide the bad boulder quickly as you can,
Before the thing attracts the Ku Klux Klan!