By Lillian Ilsley-Green
(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — The California State University Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to remove the name of an unrepentant antisemite and Nazi sympathizer from the main library on its Fresno campus, putting an end to the legacy of longtime former librarian Henry Miller Madden at Fresno State after an internal investigation.
The building will be referred to as the Fresno State Library until a replacement name is chosen.
In a press release sent to the campus community, Fresno State University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said he was thankful that the 25-member board voted the way it did, calling Madden’s writings “deeply hurtful and disturbing.”
“This is a critical and necessary next step toward healing for our community and upholding the values of inclusion and equity that allow Fresno State to thrive,” he wrote, adding that he will be forming a new-name task force.
“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,” he wrote.
The decision to strike Madden’s name from the library came after a task force put together by Jiménez-Sandoval recommended it be removed from the building, citing extensive examples of antisemitism in Madden’s personal papers.
Among them, Madden wrote about a 1934 visit to New York City: “I spent a good 20 minutes walking, looking all the time for an honest gentile face, and I don’t think I saw one.”
“And such Jews! Noisy, dirty, smelly, ugly — Jews such as you have never seen before, absolutely different from S.F. Jews,” he wrote in a letter to his mother.
“The Jews: I am developing a violent and almost uncontrollable phobia against them,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. “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.”
Michael Lukens, chair of the task force who is on staff in Fresno State’s office of the president, said the recommendation followed five months of investigation into Madden’s personal papers, including examining 53 boxes of material that Madden donated to the library in 1980.
Jiménez-Sandoval “wanted to look at the trajectory of his thoughts, whether later in life he had come to some sort of reckoning and displayed remorse or regret over the views that he held in his 20s and 30s,” Lukens said. “What we found is that there was really no evidence that he renounced the views at all.”
Madden’s views came to light in November 2021 when Bradley Hart, an associate professor who teaches about the media, lectured on the topic in class. Hart unearthed Madden’s antisemitic writings while doing research for his 2018 book “Hitler’s American Friends,” but the university was not made aware of the history until after the lecture.
Hart applauded the board of trustees for taking what he called an important step in building inclusivity on campus. “This is a great moment for Fresno State,” he said. “Today we have rectified a historic wrong.”
The removal of Madden’s name from not only the library building but also the university website, advertising materials and signage will begin immediately, Lukens said. Though the process will be complex and expensive, he said the university is committed to the effort.
Moving forward, Fields said, the university must work to eradicate what remains of Madden’s legacy on campus. Madden spent 30 years as a librarian at Fresno State, and the library building has featured his name since 1981.
“There’s more that can be done,” Fields said. “It’s one thing to remove a name, and it’s another to ensure that students and the wider community remain educated about the existence and persistence of antisemitism and other forms of racism.”
A version of this piece originally ran in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.