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Name change at the Fresno State library

Until last week, the name of the main library at Fresno State University was the Henry Miller Madden Library. Madden, a legendary bibliophile, wrote about Jews at various times in his life. The record as we have it begins with a 1934 visit to New York City. Madden wrote:

“I spent a good 20 minutes walking, looking all the time for an honest gentile face, and I don’t think I saw one.”

To his mother Madden wrote: “And such Jews! Noisy, dirty, smelly, ugly — Jews such as you have never seen before, absolutely different from S. F. [San Francisco] Jews.”

To a friend he wrote: “The Jews: I am developing a violent and almost uncontrollable phobia against them.

Whenever I see one of those predatory noses, or those roving and leering eyes, or those slobbering lips, or those flat feet, or those nasal and whiny voices I tremble with rage and hatred.”

In other writings, Madden fantasized about driving Jews “barefoot to some remote spot in Texas” — to camps “closed in by electrically charged barbed wire.”

Madden’s fantasies were, of course, Hitler’s realities.

Five months of investigation into Madden’s personal papers, including 53 boxes that he donated to the library in 1980, did not reveal any change of mind by Madden about Jews.

Our question is not why the California State University Board of Trustees voted to remove his name from the Fresno State library. It is: Why was the library named after this virulent anti-Semite in 1981 to start with?

Are we to believe that a person with such visceral hatred of Jews never expressed his thoughts during his long tenure at the university? Are we to believe that no one who proposed his name for the library knew of his attitudes toward Jews?

Or was it, simply, that anti-Semitic opinions such as Madden’s were par for the course in Fresno, California, that no one gave it a second thought when his name was proposed for the library he long served?

Whatever the error was when the library was named after him, the university is now committed not only to the library name-change but to eradicating Madden’s legacy on the campus, to erasing his record there, to altering the university’s website, advertising materials and signage so that the name Henry Miller Madden will disappear from Fresno State. It will be as if he never existed there.

How, pray tell, is that supposed to aid in the goal of, as the university’s founding coordinator of its Jewish studies program put it, ensuring “that students and the wider community remain educated about the existence and persistence of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism?” How can one educate about anti-Semitism without educating about anti-Semites?

Henry Miller Madden and his like should be studied. What is Holocaust education if not the study of Nazis and Nazism? What is the study of anti-Semitism if not the study of what anti-Semites say, where their hate originates, how it is expressed and, perhaps most important, who they affect, and why?

Fresno State’s president said: “I firmly believe that naming a building or any key campus area must align with our communal values and reflect our shared spirit of discovery, diversity and distinction.” This is only half right. Yes, names in honored places should be honorable, but no, it is not only honorable people who must populate university curricula if they are to train students to think critically about those unaligned with a shared spirit of discovery, diversity and distinction.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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