Posted on February 10, 2023

UC Berkeley’s Moses Hall Is Unnamed; Its Namesake Held Racist Beliefs

Gretchen Kell, Berkeley News, February 7, 2023

Moses Hall today became the fifth building in University of California, Berkeley, history to lose its name because of the racist views of its namesake.

In a Dec. 5, 2022, letter to UC President Michael Drake requesting the unnaming of the hall that honored Bernard Moses, a prominent faculty member from 1875 to 1911, Chancellor Carol Christ wrote that “removing the Moses name from our campus — and acknowledging our historical ties to Bernard Moses — will help Berkeley recognize a challenging part of history while better supporting the diversity of today’s academic community.”

Drake approved on Jan. 13, 2023 the removal of the Moses name, which also is on a parking lot adjacent to the hall and is used in programming such as the campus’s Bernard Moses Memorial Lecture, established in 1937 by the UC president and the UC Regents. As of today, the building is temporarily being called Philosophy Hall.

At UC Berkeley, BoaltLeConte and Barrows halls were stripped of their names in 2020; Kroeber Hall’s name was removed in 2021. {snip}

The 1931 building houses the Department of Philosophy, Institute of Governmental Studies, and Global, International and Area Studies. Originally the Eshleman Memorial Publications Building, home to the Daily Californian and other student publications, it was renamed Moses Hall in 1965, when a new Eshleman Hall opened on Lower Sproul.

In their proposal to the chancellor’s Building Name Review Committee, which unanimously recommended to her the unnaming, the philosophy department’s graduate students, staff and faculty — with support from the building’s other units — noted the “intensity” of Moses’ racist and colonialist views.

“ … if any of the views held by Moses’ contemporaries deserve to be called ‘moderate,’ his would not be among them,” the 14-page proposal states. Further, it argues, Moses’ beliefs weren’t just personal, but woven into and explicitly defended in his academic work.

Retaining the name of Moses Hall “ … could reasonably be seen as an affront to students, instructors and staff of color,” the document continues. “The hurt that name has already caused to some in our community is what gave rise to this proposal.”

The unnaming, said Alva Noë, the chair of philosophy, “is an act of affirmation of the values of love and respect that are today the guiding principles of life here at the university.”


In 1883, Moses created and chaired the former Department of History and Political Science, and in 1903, he established political science as a separate academic discipline and founded the Department of Political Science.

A preeminent authority on the history of imperial Spain and Latin America, Moses strove to understand economic history from the perspective of Latin American peoples and states, and he made frequent academic and official trips to and traveled extensively in Mexico and South America.


But in various published works, Moses also expressed racist views, particularly two: that races are differentiated from each other by inheritable physical, intellectual, aesthetic and moral characteristics, and that the white race is superior to all others.

Those perspectives conflict with both the assertion by chancellor’s Building Name Review Committee’s that the “legacy of a building’s namesake should be in alignment with the values and mission of the university” and with several of the Berkeley campus’s Principles of Community.

Evidence detailed in the philosophy department’s proposal reveals Moses’ belief that races are distinguishable by inheritable physical and mental characteristics — that race, as Moses often put it, is a matter of “blood.” Moses also believed that negative inheritable traits are associated with non-white races, and that positive characteristics are found in the white race.

“That is,” wrote the proposal co-authors, “he believed that non-white races are inferior to the white race.”

In “The Government of the United States, 1906,” Moses wrote, “The Spaniards, who settled Mexico and South America, intermarried with the Indians and as a consequence their descendants fell below the European standard.”

Moses felt these differences among races explained the superiority, for example, of the English, who colonized America.

“The people of the United States have set out with the fundamental idea of equality which involves the abolition of race prejudice,” he wrote in “Results of the war between Russia and Japan,” “in spite of the fact that it is the preservation of this prejudice, or of race-respect, that has kept the English stock free from contamination of barbarian blood, and given its position in the world.

“It is, therefore, a matter of grave concern whether a nation in colonizing preserves its stock unmixed with lower elements or, becoming united with barbarians, leaves a posterity less effective than would have been descendants of unadulterated blood.”

Several passages in Moses’ writings highlight his belief that Indigenous heritage is an impediment to prosperity and progress. For example, he wrote, “Neither the Indian nor the mestizo was capable of originating and carrying on great enterprises,” in his book South America on the Eve of Emancipation (1898).

In Spain’s Declining Power in South America, 1730-1806, “the support Moses expresses … for the Jesuit project of educating Indigenous people in South America can only be seen as paternalistic,” the unnaming proposal states. The few Indigenous families that sent their sons to Jesuit schools “acquired a certain amount of elementary knowledge,” Moses wrote, “but difficulties arose when attempts were made to give them more advanced instruction. It was found that the barbarian was only a good beginner in learning.”


Moses also wrote of the post-emancipation Southern U.S. and relations between whites and Black people, pointing out in his 1900 paper, “New Problems in the Study of Society,” that Black people “were not sufficiently civilized to be effective citizens,” the unnaming proposal states, and that it became necessary, in Moses’ words, to “meet the crimes of the barbarian with a method and a punishment that might be supposed to impress and deter the barbarian.”