BAR HARBOR — The Jackson Laboratory was founded in 1929 by geneticist Clarence Cook Little and named for donor Roscoe Jackson. The latter is the namesake for both the organization itself and the dining facility on the Bar Harbor campus, Roscoe’s. The former has his name on the C. C. Little Conference Center, the campus auditorium, but not for long.
The laboratory is joining the University of Maine and the University of Michigan, both of which Little served as president, in removing his name from buildings “in light of generational changes in attitudes to what we believe is right and good,” current Jackson Lab CEO Edison Liu said in a statement.
Little was a leader in the eugenics movement, which advocated “improving” the human race by encouraging those with “desirable” traits to have children and aiming to prevent others, often including the poor, people of color and people with disabilities, from doing so.
“This is a movement that was (and still is) the basis of racist and fascist movements of the twentieth century and is one which JAX wholeheartedly opposes,” Liu said. “We repudiate the social and political construct of eugenics, an idea and movement now thoroughly discredited on both scientific and moral grounds.
“We are actively discussing our responsibility as geneticists in society,” he continued. “In our role as a genetics institution, all of us at The Jackson Laboratory must become a key force against racism, and a vocal opponent to the use of genetics to oppress and to dominate.”
Debates over public statues of Confederate generals, the Confederate battle flag and other symbols perceived as reminders of racial oppression have intensified across the country this summer after high-profile deaths of Black people at the hands of police.
Liu said it’s important to “make a distinction between remembering our past and celebrating it unquestioningly. History is based on facts, events and beliefs of those times past, but the interpretation of their importance is the responsibility of the living.”
Little was active with founder Margaret Sanger in the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America. This week, Planned Parenthood announced that it would remove Sanger’s name from its building in New York, citing her “racist legacy,” including her endorsement of the 1927 U.S. Supreme Court decision Buck v. Bell, which upheld a Virginia law permitting compulsory sterilization.
Little also, especially late in his career, was a high-profile supporter of the tobacco industry’s claims that smoking does not cause cancer.
At The Jackson Laboratory, an internal working group led by Chief Operating Officer Catherine Longley is set to consider options for renaming the Bar Harbor auditorium.
A historical profile of Little can be found in the 2000 edition of the Journal of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.