Princeton mulls dropping US President Wilson’s name over racist ties

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Princeton University to mull dropping Woodrow Wilson’s name.

Princeton University will look into removing the name of former US President Woodrow Wilson from buildings and school programs under a deal signed with student demonstrators over what they call his racist legacy.The recent protests by college students across the country are mostly about racial insensitivity and charges of discrimination and mistreatment on campuses today.This Wednesday, a group of Princeton students stormed the offices of president Christopher Eisgruber to demand that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from all programs and buildings at the university.

Thursday’s agreement between students and several top administrators at the renowned Ivy League university in New Jersey ended a 32-hour sit-in outside Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber’s office, a university statement said. Some of these objections are more valid than others, but even the worthy ones raise difficult questions for institutions that revere tradition but also have obligations to the current generation of students.

Princeton has an entire school — the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs — named after Wilson, who served as university president from 1902 to 1910, before his time in the White House. On Wednesday, Princeton University announced it would no longer refer to the heads of its residential colleges as “masters,” a term inspired by the ancient universities in England. Dean of the College Jill Dolan said the title “heads of college” better captures “the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life.” Maybe so, but the name change also was a response to a concern, also voiced at Yale, that the term “master” is racially offensive because it could be associated with slavery. So far, the university is standing firm, insisting that, in the Associated Press’s words, “it is important to weigh Wilson’s racism, and how bad it was, with the contributions he made to the nation.” And outside of Princeton, the incident is being seized upon as yet another example of campus PC run amok: Leaving aside the broader question of whether Wilson’s name should be removed, let’s be clear on one thing: Woodrow Wilson was, in fact, a racist pig.

The protesters, both black and white, wanted the school to acknowledge what they say is the racist legacy of Wilson and to rename the buildings and programs named for him. The school now says it will consider removing a mural of Wilson, begin conversations about Wilson’s legacy, and boost cultural competency training for faculty.

He was a racist by current standards, and he was a racist by the standards of the 1910s, a period widely acknowledged by historians as the “nadir” of post–Civil War race relations in the United States. Easily the worst part of Wilson’s record as president was his overseeing of the resegregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been surprisingly integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier. It also says the board will collect information on the “campus community’s” opinion, but does not give further details. “We appreciate the willingness of the students to work with us to find a way forward for them, for us and for our community,” Eisgruber said. “We were able to assure them that their concerns would be raised and considered through appropriate processes.” Princeton officials also agreed to designate four rooms in the Carl A.

Wilson offered no objection to Burleson’s plan for segregation, saying that he “wished the matter adjusted in a way to make the least friction.” Both Burleson and Treasury Secretary William McAdoo took Wilson’s comments as authorization to segregate. It’s certainly understandable that African American students would feel uncomfortable residing in a college named for Calhoun, who is best known for championing the slaveholding Southern states.

While in office, Wilson organized a private screening of the film “Birth of a Nation,” which was widely criticized by the NAACP at the time and later became a recruiting tool for the Klu Klux Klan. As Boston University Professor William Keyler noted in a 2013 article on the university website: With quotations from Wilson’s scholarly writings in its subtitles, the silent film denounced the Reconstruction period in the South when blacks briefly held elective office in several states.

DuBois — who had supported Wilson in the 1912 election before being disenchanted by his segregation policies — wrote of “one colored clerk who could not actually be segregated on account of the nature of his work [and who] consequently had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions of many years.” That’s right: Black people who couldn’t, logistically, be segregated were put in literal cages. Wilson informed Trotter, “Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” When Trotter insisted that “it is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness,” Wilson admonished him for his tone: “If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me … Your tone, with its background of passion.” It’s worth stressing that Wilson’s policies here were racist even for his time. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had been much better about appointing black statesmen to public office, and other political figures, including whites, attacked Wilson’s moves toward segregation.

Rogers of Massachusetts introduced resolutions urging investigation of treatment of Negro employees in the Treasury and Post Office Departments,” historian Nancy Weiss writes, “but both measures died on committee calendars without gaining so much as a hearing.” Wilson’s racism even extended to foreign affairs. While 11 out of 17 members at the meeting considering the amendment favored it, Wilson, who was presiding, arbitrarily decided that the amendment had been defeated because the vote wasn’t unanimous.

This wasn’t an actual rule that the proceedings were operating under; a simple majority vote was enough to decide that the League of Nations would be headquartered in Geneva. Wilson just really didn’t want the treaty to recognize racial equality and wanted to appease the British Empire, which was premised on subjugating African and South Asian people.

Southern racists, accordingly, rejoiced his election. “Washington was flooded with revelers from the Old Confederacy, whose people had long dreamed of a return to the glory days of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, when southern gentlemen ran the country,” Keylor writes. “Rebel yells and the strains of ‘Dixie’ reverberated throughout the city.” Wilson himself was the descendant of Confederate soldiers, and identified deeply with the “Lost Cause” narrative, according to which the Confederacy was a government of noble men trying to preserve a decent agrarian way of life against crude Northern industrialists, rather than a separatist movement premised on white supremacy.

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