Having lived on East Calhoun street in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle for the past twenty years, I was curious whether my street was named after a racist Vice President of the United States. If it was, I planned to see if we could resolve this without actually changing the street name—similar to what the King County Council did in 1986 with regard to changing the namesake of our county from William Rufus de Vane King to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After some research, it turns out this may be unnecessary.
Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd’s recent death by a white police officer, was in the process last year of changing street names around Lake Calhoun to no longer honor the racist politician they were originally named after.
John C. Calhoun was a South Carolina Senator and served as Vice President from 1825 to 1832. He opposed abolition and efforts to prevent slavery from taking hold in the western territories and states. He supported the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and insisted that slavery was a “positive good” during an 1837 Senate floor speech. He died in 1850, some 40 years before the Montlake neighborhood was developed.
Calhoun street is more likely named after Dr. George Calhoun, who owned the Marine Hospital in Port Townsend. At the time, this was the largest hospital in the Northwest. Turns out Dr. Calhoun was a good friend and mentor of Dr. Thomas T. Minor, who was elected Mayor of Seattle in 1887. Mayor Minor was a prominent civic and political leader in Port Townsend and Seattle—the only person to have been elected mayor of both cities.
According to History Link, it appears that since Calhoun street was named around the end of the 1880s, it could be it was likely named as a tribute to the Mayor’s friend. Though I don’t have certainty around this, I am more at ease knowing the street on which I live is likely named after a man of honor rather than a confirmed racist.