Can Fresno State keep anti-Semite Madden’s name on its library? Take it off immediately

·3 min read

It was shocking to learn that the namesake of Fresno State’s campus library, Henry Madden, was a proud anti-Semite and admirer of Nazi Germany.

So it was gratifying to see quick action by President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval to begin the process to rename the key university landmark after someone or something more fitting of Fresno State’s important role in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Opinion

As Jiménez-Sandoval said in a letter to students, faculty and the community, Madden’s views “run entirely contrary to Fresno State’s core values of diversity, equity and inclusion and the efforts of our campus community to live by those values.

“The views attributed to Dr. Madden are more than allegations; they are reflections of his beliefs as captured in his own words, and in documents he curated and donated to the library before his passing.”

Madden, who served as the school’s librarian from 1949-79, expressed in his collection of papers the hatred he bore for Jewish people. For the obvious pain such new information now inflicts upon the region’s Jewish community, the university should immediately stop referring to the place by his name.

As a temporary measure, the reference should be changed to Bulldog Library, or more simply Campus Library, until a permanent name can be determined.

Undefensible writings

Madden’s writings conveying his abhorrence for Jewish people were in a collection donated by his estate in 1982. The collection was sealed by request until 2007. Fast forward to this fall. Associate Professor Bradley W. Hart shared research he had done for his book, “Hitler’s American Friends,” with a class taught by history Professor Lori Clune.

Henry Madden
Henry Madden

Accoding to Bradley’s 2018 book, “Hitler’s American Friends,” Madden’s pro-Nazi writings were from when he was in doctoral studies at Columbia University in New York in the mid-1930s. He wrote to a friend: “The Jews: I am developing a violent and almost uncontrollable phobia against them ... Whom do I hate more than the Jews? They have oppressed my mother, stolen her savings from her, chained her with interest servitude, made a Via Dolorosa of her life. They must go!”

Ironically, a 1999 tribute to Madden referenced him as a leader “particularly in the area of intellectual freedom.”

Today, Fresno State is a diverse campus: More than 70% of its students are racially or ethnically diverse, with Latinos making up the biggest racial group at 55.4% of the enrollment of the 24,000 undergraduates.

Victory Library

Were Madden’s bitter musings that of a young student, or something longer lasting? A committee that Jiménez-Sandoval is forming for a renaming recommendation should address that question.

Here are others the committee should take up:

Was there any evidence that Madden shared pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic ideas openly while at Fresno State?

What kind of vetting occurred in 1981 when the library was named for Madden?

Why did the university not know about this until now?

Anyone who might claim the committee’s effort is simply cancel culture would be wrong. For one thing, the Holocaust of World War II, in which 6 million Jews were killed under command by Adolf Hitler, predates today’s culture wars.

For another, any suggestions that Hitler’s Nazi Germany had positive qualities have been roundly denied and dismissed in the decades since the war ended.

Clune told her students that Hart’s book showed how pro-Nazi attitudes lingered in some quarters of America in the 1930s and ‘40s. She also said how Madden was a complicated man.

That said, the decision to rename the library is simple. Do it, and the sooner, the better. The renaming committee should let students and faculty have ample chance to share their ideas, and President Jiménez-Sandoval should act with due speed to make a final decision.

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