(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Administrators at California State University, Fresno, announced this week they would consider renaming the school’s Henry Madden Library, after a professor at the university shared with students that Madden, a longtime librarian at the school, was an antisemite and vocal Hitler supporter.
“First and foremost, I want members of our Jewish community to know that we stand with you and against both the historic and ongoing antisemitism that remains all too present in our society,” the university’s interim president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said in a Nov. 29 email sent to faculty, staff and students about the renaming.
“I’m very glad the university is quickly addressing this,” said Rabbi Rick Winer of Fresno’s Temple Beth Israel, who serves on an advisory council on Jewish life at the school.
The development comes amid a national reckoning on names and monuments honoring figures who expressed racist views, a movement that has seen the University of California-Berkeley law school renamed, highways in northern Virginia bearing the names of Confederate generals rededicated to honor abolitionists, and a proposal put forth to replace more than 40 San Francisco public school names because of associations with racism.
Earlier this year a statue at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, was removed from campus grounds following a student petition because the artist, Fritz von Graevenitz, was widely celebrated by Nazis and sculpted busts of Hitler.
The Madden issue at Fresno State came to light because of research by Bradley Hart, a professor in the school’s Media, Communications and Journalism Department and the author of a book on American supporters of Hitler and fascism. He praised the administration for the announcement.
“I think they acted with great sense of purpose,” he said. “Obviously they take it seriously.”
Hart’s book, “Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States,” was published in 2018 but, according to university spokesperson Lisa Boyles Bell, the school was only made aware of Madden’s views after Hart lectured on the material in a class on Nov. 17. Bell told J. it was the first time, to the university’s knowledge, that material from the book had been taught at the university.
“The topic only came up right at the end,” Hart told J., describing the class. He said students caught the small reference to the school’s librarian and asked Hart about it, which led to a discussion of his research — conducted at the Madden Library.
“There was quite a bit of shock,” he said.
Madden was librarian at the school from 1949 to 1979, and the university’s central library was named for him in 1981. He donated his papers to the library, including private correspondence, but they were sealed until 2007.
According to local news station ABC 30, in the book Hart quotes a letter from Madden: “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. They are the oppressors. … Whom do I hate more than the Jews?”
The university confirmed it had copies of Madden’s antisemitic writings in its collections.
“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,” Jiménez-Sandoval’s email said.
A task force has been announced to rename the building, but the university was not able to confirm a timeline.
“The Task Force understands the urgency of this matter and will convene soon to begin their review of the materials and documents, which we anticipate will take some time,” Bell said.
Hart said that was appropriate, as scholars should examine the large collection of Madden’s documents scrupulously.
“We don’t know whether Madden’s views changed over time,” he said.
Winer, who has been tapped to be a member of the task force, said the issues surrounding Madden’s views reach beyond the small Jewish community in Fresno, a city of about 500,000 with three synagogues and a Jewish federation.
“While the Jewish community is extremely small, the community of people of color and the community of religious minorities is very substantial,” he said. “White supremacists and neo-Nazis are a continuing issue.”
A version of this story was first published in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is republished with permission.