Brooklyn Center renames Earle Brown Heritage Center because of pioneer's racist views

21 June 2022

Brooklyn Center’s Earle Brown Heritage Center has a new name.

The City Council last week passed a resolution that renamed the city-owned convention and event center the Heritage Center of Brooklyn Center. The move is the latest in a series of steps in recent years to strip the name of Earle Brown, an early resident who espoused racist ideologies, from city facilities and landmarks.

“Making a change to the name because it is offensive to members of our community is a prudent move,” said City Council Member Kris Lawrence-Anderson during the June 13 council meeting. “As a human being he may have done things we don’t agree with, and yet he did things our community can be proud of. Let’s not forget the past but learn from it and move forward.”

Brown owned the farm where the Village of Brooklyn Center was formed by vote in 1911, and went on to serve two terms as Hennepin County Sheriff. He helped found the Minnesota State Patrol in 1929 and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1932.

Though lauded for his contributions, Brown also has come under scrutiny after revelations in recent years connected him to the Minnesota Eugenics Society. In 2013, a Minneapolis teacher in her book, “The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota,” wrote that Brown did nothing to stop the KKK from burning crosses or meeting in Hennepin County while he was sheriff.

Discoveries about Brown’s racist past have already produced changes in the north metro community. The Brooklyn Center Community School District changed the name of Earle Brown Elementary School to Brooklyn Center Elementary, and the city renamed its annual “Earle Brown Days” summer celebration “Brooklyn Center Days.”

Those changes launched discussions about renaming the Earle Brown Heritage Center. The city held in-person and online meetings and conducted an online survey to engage residents about the possibility of renaming the center, a popular destination for weddings and other large events.

City staff earlier this year recommended the name change.

“The revelations with regard to Earle Brown generated a great deal of discussion and concern in the City, particularly in the context of efforts similar to the renaming of Lake Calhoun in the City of Minneapolis to Lake Bde Mka Ska and subsequent to the shooting of Daunte Wright on April 11, 2021,” part of the resolution said.

The change, however, won’t completely eradicate Brown’s name from the building. Council Member and Mayoral Candidate April Graves said she wants to see artifacts telling the story of Brown and the city’s history preserved. She also suggested a plaque be posted to explain the reason for the name change.

“I thought it would be important to tell the story of the history,” Graves said. “Individuals are not just one-sided. There are multiple things to be learned.”

The city estimates it will cost about $165,800 to introduce the facility’s new name, including with new signs and a new logo. The largest expense will be about $43,000 to repaint the historic site’s water tower. There will also be costs for new menus, marketing materials, rebranding social media and websites and to replace or remove a large medallion inside the front entrance.

The city hired Dayta Marketing to research naming possibilities that cater to the wedding and corporate event industry.

“History is important,” said Mayor Mike Elliott, who became the city’s first Black mayor when he was elected in 2018. “We need to make sure we are living our values also in terms of who we lift up and whether or not they represent those values. I think we are going forward in the right direction.”

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