April 11, 2022
We’re here today to remember our history, and to give a new name, a powerful name, to our future.
Confucius once said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”
And what is a proper name? Well, names are symbols, often of the people and places we value and honor.
Place names carry both the memory of the named and the beliefs of those who named them.
Yet long after a place is named, the name continues to tell a story about what matters now to those who see the name, speak the name, and learn from the name.
A university doesn’t get to rewrite history – but we do have the power to telegraph to the world who we are and what we aspire to be, now and in the future.
Today, we gather to dedicate one of USC’s most iconic and well-loved academic buildings with a new name, that of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow – member of the Crow Nation, proud USC graduate, a leader, a visionary, a patriot, and an educator.
As Elie Wiesel once said “Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.”
From this morning on, this building with its soaring globe-topped tower visible across L.A. telegraphs a new symbol of USC, a new name, a proper name, to carry tomorrow’s dream.
I’m honored to welcome you to this dedication ceremony.
Members of Dr. Medicine Crow’s family and community, distinguished guests, USC Trustees and university leaders, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of our communities – thank you for being here or joining us online.
I give a special heartfelt welcome to the indigenious students, faculty, staff, and community members with us today.
We’re all here because this academic building means something to us, just as it has to the hundreds of thousands of Trojans who have worked here, studied here, and walked by it for decades.
Each time you pass its red brick façade and tall arches, Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow’s name on this building – and his life dedicated to peace, unity, education, and global understanding – will be a visible sign of hope and honor.
Ten members of the Medicine Crow family traveled from Montana to be with us.
Thank you. You honor us by allowing USC to connect so visibly with the life and legacy of your father, grandfather, and great grandfather, and with the Crow Nation.
There are many people who cared deeply about this renaming, and I’d like to share a bit about how we got here.
For me, the story begins during my inauguration two and a half years ago. I saw students protesting in front of this building, so I set out to learn about it.
Many people helped me understand the history of both the discontent and the legions of people who had wanted the name changed for years.
The building bore the name of President Rufus B. Von KleinSmid, USC’s fifth president who served from 1921 to 1947. He’s credited with growing USC’s professional and international training programs and bringing USC to national accreditation.
However, President Von KleinSmid also took a number of appalling and unjust actions, and he wrote about and held beliefs not only antithetical to our current dreams and mission, but at odds with USC’s founding mission.
USC opened in 1880 on a foundation of diversity. To be a great city, the founders (an ecumenical group) believed that L.A. needed a great university that would embody and enable the already diverse people of the region.
So while not perfect, USC was at the forefront of diversity and inclusion at that time, and strives to be so today.
In contrast to those ideals, after the war, President Von KleinSmid barred more than 150 Nisei – Japanese-American USC students who had been forcibly removed from school and interned in squalid, overcrowded camps – from returning to USC. He even refused them access to their rightful transcripts. He also was a known Nazi sympathizer and antisemite, and he actively and ardently supported the racist eugenics movement.
It was my great privilege to present the motion to remove his name to the executive committee of the USC Board of Trustees, who immediately and unanimously voted to remove the name.
A naming committee comprising faculty, staff, and students, and chaired by Dr. Paula Cannon, then was tasked to seek broad input and recommend an individual who would inspire USC.
We were looking for a societal leader and a USC alum with a legacy of fairness, cultural inclusivity, and education.
Our community responded beautifully – with Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow’s name rising high.
A scholar, a chief, a published historian, a musician, a family man, and a war hero – he was willing to lay down his life for our country. Humble, funny, and self-effacing, he never sought recognition.
He was born in 1913 in Lodge Grass, Montana, a town on the Crow Reservation near the Montana-Wyoming border.
His family tells me he grew up listening to stories about the Battle of the Little Bighorn directly from the Crow men who were there. He learned the oral history of a time before reservations were created.
Family was vital to Joseph Medicine Crow. His grandfather trained him to run barefoot in the snow; swim in churning, cold rivers; track game; and master horsemanship – skills that served him in World War II.
When he started school, he didn’t speak English. Yet he made the honor roll and became one of the first Crow people to graduate from college. And when he earned his master’s in anthropology from USC in 1939, he became the first member of the Crow Nation to receive a graduate degree.
He had just completed his Ph.D. coursework when he answered his country’s call to go to war. He was a scout for the U.S. Army in Germany and served on the front lines fighting to liberate France.
While serving in Europe, he completed the four coups, or acts of bravery, required to become a Crow War Chief – the final deed coming when he freed 50 horses from Nazi soldiers, saving the horses and singing a traditional praise song as he stampeded them out.
He received the Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor for his bravery, and was given the name “High Bird” by the Council of Elders. And he became the last War Chief of the Crow Tribe.
Scholarly inquiry drove him. His mission was to share the Crow traditions and stories with people around the world.
He said: “Education is a way of life. I want to help people get a good education and lead them out of the world of ignorance.”
A perfect mission for the people who work here today.
He was a scholarship recipient at USC, and we are excited to announce that his passion for education will live on through a new Native American scholarship program we’re starting this fall – the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Scholarships.
Education also became his instrument of change. He received four honorary doctorates from multiple institutions. He was in such high demand that in 2003, two honorary doctorates were offered to him at the same time; thankfully, he accepted ours.
Dr. Medicine Crow loved USC. He loved the Trojan Marching Band and he loved Trojan football. He had a work-study job in the same dorm where the football players lived, ate his meals with them, and they became some of his best friends.
While at USC, when he wasn’t cheering or studying, he was enjoying music. One day near campus, he came across a man playing classical guitar on the street. He loved it and he asked the man to teach him how to play. The man said yes, and the classical guitar became one of five instruments Dr. Medicine Crow mastered.
I’ve heard a lot about his marvelous sense of humor. For instance, he loved to kid around about his brief stint in Hollywood which included a kiss on the cheek from Gloria Swanson – the “It Girl” of the silver screen at the time.
He teased his nephew, saying, “I was a top act there. When I left, there were only two acts left in the streets of Los Angeles – Roy Rogers and Gene Autry!”
Ron said his dad was “a humble man.”
Joseph Medicine Crow’s words to President Obama, after he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, were to deflect from himself and say: “I’m highly honored.”
And he used every opportunity to deliver messages of goodwill, education, peace, and unity, and to stretch his arms wide to embrace all people.
Finally, preserving the history of his people was his life’s work. He wrote books and brought the oral tradition to recordings for the National Museum of the American Indian. And as the Crow Tribe’s historian, he reminded America – and the world – of the contributions made by indigenous people.
From this day forward, with this naming – a proper name – Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow’s dreams and life of honor, proudly placed on our Center for International and Public Affairs, will inspire USC Trojans for generations to come.
It’s now my pleasure to invite Dr. Medicine Crow’s son Ron to the stage. Please know – I learned all these stories from Ron, who is himself a captivating storyteller.
Before Ron speaks, however, we have a special treat. Ron and his family sent us a video of Dr. Medicine Crow. In this video, he sings two songs that were special to him. One is an honor song sung by his grandfather. I’d like to play it for you now, and invite Ron Medicine Crow to the stage.
Thank you for sharing those wonderful memories Ron. What a joy it is to hear his voice singing his songs.
Thank you also for spending time with our students on Sunday, telling stories of your father and sharing the Crow traditions.
Your father’s story has inspired many. And today we have with one of them with us, USC cinema and media studies senior, Mesa Chase.
Mesa is Navajo, Hopi, and Lakota Sioux, and she co-founded the USC Native American Student Assembly in 2019. She grew up in Gallup, New Mexico, near the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Hopi Reservation. Like Dr. Medicine Crow, she’s a storyteller, with film as her medium.
Please join me in welcoming Mesa to share what this dedication means to her.
Now, I’d like to invite Lt. Col. Chris Gin, professor of military science and head of the Trojan Battalion ROTC, for a special presentation to the Medicine Crow family.
Will the entire Medicine Crow Family please join me on stage?
On behalf of USC, with gratitude and respect, I present you two gifts: a bound copy of Dr. Medicine Crow’s original thesis and a painting of today’s event. Rich Flynn is an artist who paints “in the moment,” and he is doing a live painting right now.
It will be a beautiful memory of this moment and a celebration of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow.
Now, before we close, it’s my privilege to invite Dr. Medicine Crow’s granddaughter, Tiara Medicine Crow-Gopher, to read an Apsáalooke belief in remembrance of her grandfather.
Thank you for sharing those beautiful words with us.
Please stay up here with me as I now invite the rest of the Crow family and Dean Soni, Board Chair Rick Caruso, and Mesa to join us for the unveiling of the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs.
Thank you all for being a part of today’s dedication.
Thanks again to all those who made this dedication meaningful and unforgettable.
And a special shout-out to the staff who organized today’s celebration. They arranged for this beautiful portrait and naming plaque behind me, and for the new Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow signage and the new reading collection in the building’s library. They organized the event, and made it all so beautiful.
Finally, thank you again to the Medicine Crow family for sharing Joseph’s stories and your family archives with us. We know you miss him, and hope he would be happy to know that the university he loved is so proud of him.
This building now has a new proper name. We will be inspired and remember every day that Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow is our warrior for peace.
Thank you and Fight On!