Princeton Finally Realizes Woodrow Wilson Was Racist POS
Princeton University announced this weekend that it's removing noted racist crackpot President Woodrow Wilson's name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges, where presumably some Black students live. Princeton's board voted in 2016 to keep the 28th president's name on campus buildings and programs, despite student protests, so this is four years and a few dozen dead Black people late. But it's something.
Princeton's president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, released a statement acknowledging that Wilson wasn't just racist “for his time" -- a cop-out statement that diminishes the victims of racism at that time -- but was exceptionally racist.
Wilson's racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.
Wilson's segregationist policies make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school. When a university names a school of public policy for a political leader, it inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for students who study at the school. This searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson's racism disqualifies him from that role. In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this University and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice.
How things change (or don't) in five yearsTwitter
Wilson, who in formal photos always looks as if he'd just learned his daughter was engaged to a Black man, actively worked to roll back whatever meager gains Black people had made since emancipation. Wilson tried to justify his segregationist policies during a 1914 meeting with civil rights activist and newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter. Wilson said there was “great prejudice against colored people," which Trotter probably already knew because he was Black. The president claimed it would "take one hundred years to eradicate this prejudice," which seems like both a threat and overly optimistic in hindsight.
WILSON: Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen. If your organization goes out and tells the colored people of the country that it is a humiliation, they will so regard it, but if you do not tell them so, and regard it rather as a benefit, they will regard it the same. The only harm that will come will be if you cause them to think it is a humiliation.
That's some absurd racist double talk, worthy of Tucker Carlson, and Trotter stated firmly that the facts didn't support Wilson's racist actions. This pissed off Wilson, who said Trotter's “manner" and “tone" offended him.
TROTTER: But I have no passion in me, Mr. President, you are entirely mistaken; you misinterpret my earnestness for passion.
Despite what old movies might have you believe, Black folks in the past weren't running around singing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." We had enough sense to oppose racial discrimination even when it was still filmed in black-and-white. The following year, Wilson would host a White House screening of KKK propaganda film Birth of a Nation, which he said was like “writing history with lightning." (Trotter led protests against the film and was arrested at one outside the Tremont Theater in Boston, Massachusetts.)
Birth of a Nation even quotes Wilson's History of the American People, which claimed pro-Black congressional leaders had attempted "a veritable overthrow of civilization in the South … in their determination to put the white South under the heel of the Black South" -- presumably by letting us vote and hold elected office. Wilson wrote that “white men were roused by a mere instinct of self preservation ... until at last there had sprung a great Klu Klux Klan." (The Klan was not great.)
So, regardless of whatever he might have contributed to Princeton as its 13th president, Wilson was in fact a “racist pig" who is not worth honoring. Princeton's decision apparently devastated Texas senator and Princeton alum Ted Cruz, whose name will only ever appear on the inside of toilet bowls. Cruz tweeted the shocking news that Wilson was a Democrat.
The same party that stands up for your wife more than you do. Next question. https://t.co/DqstuYMCq9— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@Rep. Eric Swalwell) 1593297915.0
He's got us there! Wilson was a Democrat. He even supported many progressive policies that are less “progressive" considering they would exclude Black Americans, whom he barely considered human. Cruz should understand -- or admit that he understands -- that political parties and ideologies aren't set in concrete. They can shift over the years. One major realignment was after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Cruz is currently soaking in another one. Donald Trump's overt white nationalism and the GOP's enabling of his grossness has caused many decent -- if there are such -- Republicans to abandon the grand old party. This growing list includes but is not limited to Steve Schmidt, Ana Navarro, Nicole Wallace, and Sophia A. Nelson. Even Joe Scarborough has admitted he was wrong to freak out at even the idea of Princeton scrubbing Wilson's dirty name from its buildings. Maybe Cruz still thinks there's a political future in defending Confederate monuments and white supremacist presidents, both dead and alive, but the senator's sailing on a Titanic with primarily white-robed passengers.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."