Woodrow Wilson Disavowed by Princeton

An accomplished racist will no longer be honored by the university.

Woodrow Wilson was a virulent racist even for his time. He was an eminent political scientist who went on to become president of Princeton University and, ultimately, these United States. A century after the fact, Princeton has thought the better of honoring him.

A press release from the university:

President Eisgruber’s message to community on removal of Woodrow Wilson name from public policy school and Wilson College

When I wrote to you on Monday morning, June 22, I noted that the Princeton University Board of Trustees was discussing how the University could oppose racism and would soon convene a special meeting on that topic. The meeting took place yesterday, June 26. On my recommendation, the board voted to change the names of both the School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College. As you will see from the board’s statement, the trustees concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms.

As most of you know, the board previously considered whether to remove Wilson’s name after a group of student activists occupied my office in November 2015. The Wilson Legacy Review Committee conducted a thorough, deliberative process. In April 2016, it recommended a number of reforms to make this University more inclusive and more honest about its history. The committee and the board, however, left Wilson’s name on the School and the College.

The board reconsidered these conclusions this month as the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America. Board Chair Weezie Sams ’79 and I spoke individually to members of the board, and it then met on June 26.

The board continues to respect, as do I, the Wilson Legacy Review Committee’s process and report, including its description of Wilson’s historical record and its “presumption that names adopted by the trustees after full and thoughtful deliberation … will remain in place, especially when the original reasons for adopting the names remain valid.” The board nevertheless concluded that the presumption should yield in this case because of considerations specific to Wilson’s racist policies and to how his name shapes the identities of the School and the College.

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. The School will now be known as “The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.”

The University had already planned to close Wilson College and retire its name after opening two new residential colleges currently under construction. Rather than ask students in the College to identify with the name of a racist president for the next two years, the University will accelerate retirement of the name. The College will instead be known as “First College” in recognition of its status as the first of the residential colleges that now play an essential role in the residential life of all Princeton undergraduates.

These conclusions may seem harsh to some. Wilson remade Princeton, converting it from a sleepy college into a great research university. Many of the virtues that distinguish Princeton today—including its research excellence and its preceptorial system—were in significant part the result of Wilson’s leadership. He went on to the American presidency and received a Nobel Prize. People will differ about how to weigh Wilson’s achievements and failures. Part of our responsibility as a University is to preserve Wilson’s record in all of its considerable complexity.

Wilson is a different figure from, say, John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, whose fame derives from their defenses of the Confederacy and slavery (Lee was often honored for the very purpose of expressing sympathy for segregation and opposition to racial equality). Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.

That, however, is ultimately the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people. When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore, or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him.

The steps taken yesterday by the Board of Trustees are extraordinary measures. These are not the only steps our University is taking to combat the realities and legacy of racism, but they are important ones. I join the trustees in hoping that they will provide the University, the School of Public and International Affairs, and our entire community with a firm foundation to pursue the mission of teaching, research, and service that has defined our highest aspirations and generated our greatest achievements throughout our history and today.

I remain torn on these issues. While I’m not a huge fan of Wilson the President even aside from his racism—and, again, it was despicable and egregious even by the standards of his era—the fact of the matter is that he was widely esteemed and had many great accomplishments that, at least arguably, outweigh the racism.

Obviously, it’s easier for a middle-aged white man writing a century after the fact to draw that judgment.

Further, as with all of these things, the fact that a large swath of our fellow citizens find homages to racist figures deeply and profoundly hurtful matters a great deal. Having the name of a great public policy school named after him is particularly problematic, in that the erstwhile Wilson School was a major pathway to careers in the foreign service and national security professions, where black men and women are severely underrepresented.

Again, I’ve troubled by the slippery slope. But, on balance, Princeton made the call it needed to.

FILED UNDER: Academia, Education, Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I just verified this with a relative who had the exact same experience, so I’m pretty sure it happened. When I was in elementary and secondary school, we were taught that Woodrow Wilson was to be revered, mostly for giving us the League of Nations. Not a single word was ever said about his egregious racism. And I was raised and educated in the northeast.

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  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    Apparently, Wilson segregated the Federal work force, installing separate bathrooms for the Post Office and so on. I did not know that until today. I don’t think we should forget him, and indeed I don’t think that will happen.

    And I endorse this move by Princeton. He doesn’t have to be the person they put forward that most represent’s Princeton’s views.

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    I try to frame these historical reevaluations in the frame of were the incidents/beliefs/attitudes that the historical figure is being accused of today, were they also outside the bounds of normal behavior of their contemporaries. So I can give a Jefferson or Washington a pass that I won’t a Lee or Jefferson Davis.

    In this specific case, it is Princeton’s school to name as they wish.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    And another one bites the dust.

    I’ve been whining for quite some time that we have lost our national narrative. We aren’t the freest, we aren’t the richest, we aren’t the most just, we aren’t the most competent and we sure as hell aren’t the happiest people on earth. We are not the Founders or the pioneers or the Greatest Generation. We aren’t doing a single damn thing that elevates us above any number of other countries, so that whole American exceptionalism thing is as dead as a week-old trout and smells about as good.

    So, WTF are we? We aren’t a race or a people. We were supposed to be a nation founded on ideas, on principles, and so long as we made progress toward those principles we had a story to tell, even if it was threadbare. Well, it’s beyond threadbare now, it’s ludicrous. We are an international laughingstock, strutting, moralizing hypocrites with feet of clay that go all the way up to nipple level. Pathetic.

    The United States today stands for nothing of value in this world. We need to do something about this. This country needs a deep reimagining and a whole new mission statement, because the USA brand is about as valuable as Aunt Jemima.

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  5. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    It’s become indistinguishable from the Trump brand, which is crap.

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  6. David S. says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The American identity has always been “the experiment” and at this point, the best model of our history is Adam Frankenstein: from his patchwork birth to his erudition, but ultimately in the childish rage and pariah status that ended up defining him.

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  7. Northerner says:

    Isaac Newton was by all accounts an a-hole, and he along with Einstein, Charles Darwin and probably most other famous scientists from a century ago were sexist and/or racist. Post-modern theory says that science is a social construct just like art and music, and so should be just as open for cancel culture if historical figures are to be judged by modern standards. That suggests universities should not associate themselves with these flawed people by teaching anything built upon their work, which means removing all physics, chemistry and biology courses. This will no doubt be a relief to many non-science majors currently forced to take some science elective — and considering that almost all the great mathematicians of the past would be either sexist or racist getting rid of math should give them further relief.

    I’m just trying to be funny of course, canceling science would directly affect people’s standard of living and so even the most judgmental people will give up their purity long enough to cook up some rationalization for teaching the works of flawed scientists and mathematicians. I just think there’s an excellent Monty Python skit in there somewhere. Where’s John Cleese when you need him?

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  8. CSK says:

    In a related matter, the Black Student Union and the Student Inclusion Coalition at the University of Wisconsin–Madison want the statue of Lincoln removed because of his views on the inferiority of Blacks. The chancellor has asked where the line should be drawn.

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  9. robert sharperson says:

    @ James Joyner
    I remain torn on these issues. While I’m not a huge fan of Wilson the President even aside from his racism—and, again, it was despicable and egregious even by the standards of his era—the fact of the matter is that he was widely esteemed and had many great accomplishments that, at least arguably, outweigh the racism.

    Many of us remain also remain torn about recognizing the accomplishments of our forefathers and reconciling their slave owning ways. I do not have a problem with squaring this circle especially considering many people today have no problem squaring the circle of celebrities politicians and athletes who participate in socially unacceptable and sometimes criminal behavior but still consider them heroes. I have no problem honoring George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and recognizing their participation in slavery

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  10. dmichael says:

    When did the elite people at this elite institution discover that Woodrow Wilson was virulent racist?

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  11. JohnMcC says:

    Count me among those who did not learn in K – thru – 12 about Wilson’s remarkably virulent racism. And it has never been pointed out that there is a pretty clear anti-colonial aspect of his ‘self-determination of Peoples’ idea that led to the League’s foundation which in many ways is in opposition to his racist determinism. The Vietnamese patriot remembered as Ho Chi Minh thought that Wilson could be persuaded to support liberty for (at least) Asian peoples only to be ignored.

    Quite a conflict that Pres Wilson had to resolve in his head if he gave it much thought. Makes me want to get a biography or two.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Quite aside from the merits of the League of Nations, and there were some, this map shows Wilson’s biggest failure regarding the League: he never got his own country to join.

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  13. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    I know. That failure got kind of underplayed. Wilson really was deified in my younger days.

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  14. Scott F. says:

    @CSK: @JohnMcC:
    There’s a meme going around the Internet that goes something like this:

    You learned about Helen Keller instead of W.E.B. DuBois.
    You learned about the Watts and L.A. Riots, but not Tulsa or Wilmington.
    You learned that George Washington’s dentures were made from wood, rather than the teeth from slaves.
    You learned about black ghettos, but not about Black Wall Street.
    You learned about the New Deal, but not “red lining.”
    …Etc.
    Privilege is having history written so that you don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable facts.

    What we’ve been taught is a powerful enabler of the “systemic” part of systemic racism. As with Wilson, I’m happy to finally be getting the education I needed to see what has been deliberately hidden from us.

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  15. Scott F. says:

    @James
    I can appreciate your concerns about where all this leads, but I’ve found myself wondering whether there really is a “slippery slope” here. If the country were to slip all the way to the bottom of said slope, would there be any real costs?

    Clearly, Wilson, Washington, Jefferson, et al are all dead, so what does it matter to those being directly reconsidered? And as robert sharperson says, doesn’t it serve our citizenry well to have a holistic view of who these men were?

    Isn’t it better to contend that our Founding Fathers could be BOTH remarkable, heroic people for bringing about the birth of a stable democracy AND flawed, sinful men for doing so without fully grappling with the disconnect between their rhetoric and their treatment of blacks and the indigenous people of the continent?

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  16. the fact of the matter is that he was widely esteemed and had many great accomplishments that, at least arguably, outweigh the racism.

    I think just like there was a compelling rationale at the time to name it after him, there is now a compelling rationale to remove the name.

    I think we need to get past the notion that once named, the name stays if the person could be said to have some merit to them.

    To me the question is this: what is Princeton saying in 2020 by leaving the name on versus what are they saying to take the name off? (And which message is the desirable one).

    @Northerner:

    That suggests universities should not associate themselves with these flawed people by teaching anything built upon their work, which means removing all physics, chemistry and biology courses.

    Assuming for the sake of argument that we discovered that Newton was cannibal who feasted on the remains of babies that he liked to roast alive, assuming that their screams improved the flavor.

    We could stop saying nice things about Newton.

    How would that stop us from using calculus (or are you suggesting it would be hypocritical to do so).

    BTW, Wilson preferred, IIRC, parliamentary democracy to presidentialism. So do I. But I don’t have to want Wilson’s name on a building to hold that view.

    Or am I missing your point?

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  17. @Northerner: @Steven L. Taylor: Put another way, removing a name from a building or taking down a statue is not erasing a person and their contributions.

    Henry Ford was anti-semitic and had pro-Nazi sympathies, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop using his mass-productions methods, but we don’t have to build a statue to him.

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  18. JohnMcC says:

    @Scott F.: Oh for sure! I started full-time college in ’68 and pretty quickly got the idea that K-thru-12 education had not been ‘serious’ in the sense of the history I was learning even in the Freshman/Sophomore survey courses.

    @Scott F.: And again, for sure. As my comment indicates there had to be some sort of mental/psychological blindness for Pres Wilson to advocate for homelands for Europe’s minorities but to not extend the same thought-process to Asia’s or Africa’s. More than simply saying “he’s a racist” would explain, I mean. He was brought up in Virginia in the Reconstruction era but went on to become probably the world’s premier diplomat at least for a time. I’m thinking that he re-thought much of what he learned in boyhood like you and I have done. My question in my comment above is about that re-thinking and how he managed to retain such strong anti-AA beliefs.

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  19. DrDaveT says:

    the fact of the matter is that he was widely esteemed and had many great accomplishments that, at least arguably, outweigh the racism

    What is it about people that makes them think that all of the complicated facts about a person, or a movement, or a time, can — indeed must — be collapsed onto some one-dimensional scale, and then a binary judgement made about the resulting score?

    Nothing can outweigh the racism. No other accomplishment or merit or deed can in any way reduce, by the least amount, the harm done by the racism. When reasonable people evaluate Wilson as a person, there is no averaging involved — you have to take the full goodness of the good things and the full evil of the evil things, and keep them all in mind simultaneously. Similarly, you can’t toss all of Thomas Jefferson’s personal traits into a cocktail shaker, mix them up, and conclude “He gets a B-“. This need to pigeonhole people as unambiguously “good people” or “bad people” is not merely counterproductive; it’s unhealthy.

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  20. JohnMcC says:

    Just because it’s kind of remarkable, let me share that until this afternoon I did not know that Sigmund Freud co-wrote (with an American sometimes-diplomat named Bullitt) a biography of Wilson. The Smithsonian magazine has an archived article of some length about the writing of it. No one will be surprised that apparently Wilson was a ‘latent homosexual’ with problems of ‘compulsive masturbation’. But Freud apparently harbored real hatred for Wilson because the American was blamed for the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which seems fair).

    Things one doesn’t know!

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  21. Northerner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Assuming for the sake of argument that we discovered that Newton was cannibal who feasted on the remains of babies that he liked to roast alive, assuming that their screams improved the flavor.

    We could stop saying nice things about Newton.

    How would that stop us from using calculus (or are you suggesting it would be hypocritical to do so).

    BTW, Wilson preferred, IIRC, parliamentary democracy to presidentialism. So do I. But I don’t have to want Wilson’s name on a building to hold that view.

    Or am I missing your point?

    Actually Robert Hooke would probably be on board with thinking Newton was a cannibal, but that wasn’t my (only partially serious) point.

    Tearing down statues and renaming things isn’t a problem (and in fact I suggest “Northerner’s Laws of Motion” is a good replacement for “Newton’s Laws of Motion). I was thinking more about cancel culture (where the actual material of someone is restricted or cancelled because of their personal failings), and speculating that the same principle (“the bad someone does outweighs the good” or “you can’t separate the art/science/technology from the artist/scientist/technologist”) can be applied to historical figures. The inability to separate the science from the scientists comes from post-modernists, some of whom argue that our science is a reflection of our society and thus sexist and racist (interestingly enough even math has been called racist by university professors, which is quite a feat for a formal system).

    So I was just going on a tangent, mainly because I don’t think statues and names are particularly important, but canceling works of art/music/science/technology because of their creators can have real repercussions, and is already underway.

    I also find it curious because until recently it was conservatives cancelling works of various kinds because of lack of moral purity, but now liberals have joined in the endevour.

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  22. Jim Brown 32 says:

    BTW you could throw Harry Truman in there as one of the lesser-known racister-racist Presidents….

    James,
    There really isn’t a slippery-slope here. I understand your POV as an institutionalist. We are both Military Men. Institutions and processes ARE important. However, if the institution and/or process has no agility to keep itself relevant for the times at hand–said institutions/process most certainly will lose credibility and relevancy.

    On the police brutality issue you write alot about letting the “process play out”. Say for example we have a manufacturing process that, for every 10,000 widgets made–10 of those widgets randomly bursts into flames and kills everyone within a 10ft blast radius. This is obviously an unacceptable number of defective widgets given the damage caused despite the fact that this process produces a perfectly good widget 99.99% of the time. The process MUST then change to avoid damaging the brand and allow for either 100% success OR the .01 percent defective simply don’t function–a spark and no one is killed or injured.

    Likewise, institutional mascots serve as that institutions “north star”. Every generation or so–that mascot needs to be evaluated for consistency with where the institution is trying to go in TODAY’s world. America and Americans, shit–the entire world has evolved and will continue evolution. Woodrow Wilson and frankly, any creation of the 19th Century and before are no longer North Stars for ANY institution. Princeton and America itself have produced plenty of brilliant alumni/Americans which would be worthy North Stars for the next 100+ years–until its time to select a new one. An organization in today’s world that is not agile–will die. Period.

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  23. An Interested Party says:

    When did the elite people at this elite institution discover that Woodrow Wilson was virulent racist?

    Such a good point…it’s not like those people at Princeton who used his name didn’t know that he was a virulent racist, but they still used it anyway…it’s funny how certain things are acceptable until all of a sudden, they’re not…

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  24. Teve says:

    We could start telling everybody that Liebniz invented calculus. 😀

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  25. Teve says:

    It would be fun to be the president who told the people around Stone Mountain to GTFO and then blast it with cruise missiles 😀

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  26. LaMont says:

    @An Interested Party:

    it’s funny how certain things are acceptable until all of a sudden, they’re not…

    It is not so much that it was considered acceptable. It is more likely that no one cared until now. The lack of empathy allows racism to go unchecked.

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  27. JKB says:

    Wilson wasn’t just a racist. He used his office to do significant damage to blacks. His segregation of the federal workforce not only brought Jim Crow into the the federal government but also threw thousands of blacks out of federal employment and hampered, if not halted, their chance at reaching a middle class lifestyle. And he did it all 50 years after the Civil War. He was not caught up in the shifting mores of his time, he brought forward the legacy of the Democratic party into the 20th century.

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  28. LaMont says:

    …the fact of the matter is that he was widely esteemed and had many great accomplishments that, at least arguably, outweigh the racism.

    Obviously, it’s easier for a middle-aged white man writing a century after the fact to draw that judgment.

    Although you somewhat walked it back in the following paragraph, I have to emphasize the error in the cognitive process of the initial paragraph. That is – it is and always will be wrong to deemphasize racism! Its white privilege at it’s finest!

    Right after reading that I (a black man) was reminded of a conversation I had with a white woman the day after Trump was elected. I did not vote for Trump – she did. I argued that Trump was unabashedly racist and that voting for him could have negative consequences against people of color. Her response was “well I am thinking about the bigger picture, like the economy.” I thought to myself – wow, it must be nice to only worry about things outside the color of my skin!

    The fact that racism is a side issue to some, and at the same time an issue that can mean the world to others, is a major diconnect that also perpetuates racism.

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  29. LaMont says:

    @JKB:

    …he brought forward the legacy of the Democratic party into the 20th century.

    Agreed with everything in your post until this last part. I see what what did there! You are technically correct but I’m going to keep you honest. He spurred the legacy of the southern Democrat party known at the time as the “dixiecrats”. They are todays southern Republicans.

    Sorry I could not let that one go. Now back on subject

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  30. James Joyner says:

    @CSK:

    The chancellor has asked where the line should be drawn.

    I would say, rather clearly, above Lincoln. But I’m not sure people 50 years from now will agree.

    @Jay L Gischer:

    He doesn’t have to be the person they put forward that most represent’s Princeton’s views.

    I agree with that. But he was never that. As the letter quoted in the OP notes, he literally turned Princeton from a sleepy college to the elite institution we think of it as today.

    @robert sharperson:

    I have no problem honoring George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and recognizing their participation in slavery

    Same. But, again, I’m a middle aged white guy. I can understand if a significant number of black Americans can’t overlook it.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    To me the question is this: what is Princeton saying in 2020 by leaving the name on versus what are they saying to take the name off? (And which message is the desirable one).

    Sure. But it’s a one-day message. Now, again, I don’t think they had much choice. You can’t attract the top black minds of a generation and then ask them to live in a residence hall named after a man who bent over backwards to make their ancestors’ lives miserable. And you can’t have that name on an elite policy school. But, in the main, I still think we can honor men of accomplishment while also acknowledging their warts.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Henry Ford was anti-semitic and had pro-Nazi sympathies, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop using his mass-productions methods, but we don’t have to build a statue to him.

    But can we still name cars and trucks after him?

    @DrDaveT:

    This need to pigeonhole people as unambiguously “good people” or “bad people” is not merely counterproductive; it’s unhealthy.

    Sure. But we’re now doing it without throwing in the good at all. We’re literally taking down statues to the general who won the war that freed slavery because he owned a single slave. And contemplating whether we should honor the President who presided over that war.

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Every generation or so–that mascot needs to be evaluated for consistency with where the institution is trying to go in TODAY’s world. America and Americans, shit–the entire world has evolved and will continue evolution. Woodrow Wilson and frankly, any creation of the 19th Century and before are no longer North Stars for ANY institution.

    I have made variations of that argument before, so I’m very sympathetic to it. Few great men of previous eras stand up to scrutiny by today’s standards. Of course, given how much more transparent our current era is, neither do men of today. I mean, that Barack Obama guy campaigned against gay marriage.

    @LaMont:

    The fact that racism is a side issue to some, and at the same time an issue that can mean the world to others, is a major diconnect that also perpetuates racism.

    Agreed. Still, the nation was still actively honoring Wilson generations later. For example, we named the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (the Wilson Center) as recently as 1968—years after the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. We built the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac during the Eisenhower administration.

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  31. Tyrell says:

    This is an insult and slam on the American soldiers who fought in World War I. While there are many valid views on our entry into that war, no one would should do something that would tarnish their honor.
    Indeed, where is the line drawn? If Lincoln is not safe, no one in our history is. This country will wind up with no history left at all to learn from. It’s already bad enough in the schools now.

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  32. Northerner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Henry Ford was anti-semitic and had pro-Nazi sympathies, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop using his mass-productions methods, but we don’t have to build a statue to him.

    If you can’t separate the art from the artist, maybe we should stop using his mass-production methods — the current thinking (actually it was the same thinking conservatives used during the McCarthy era) is that the evil someone does or says taints everything associated with them. By that model using Ford’s mass-production methods is endorsing his racism and sexism.

    I’m not seriously suggesting we stop using his mass-production, I’m just pointing out what I think is the problem with not being able to separate the good someone does from their flaws. Wilson did both good and bad, but the feeling is that his bad taints his good. Why shouldn’t that apply to Ford as well?

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  33. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnMcC: A side tangent. I’ve never understood the fascination with Freud. His theories had no scientific support and where just more or less an endless exercise in “what if”. For generations practitioners of his theories inflicted incalculable harm on millions upon millions. And virtually every one of these fantastical theories have been disproven. Yet even in the 21st century I’ve heard psychologists and psychiatrists laud him it founding father.

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  34. Tyrell says:

    @Northerner: Same with Edison (light bulbs), Wright Brothers ( airplanes), and many of the pro sports teams owners of past ages. Where does this stuff stop? Where is the line?
    History is not full of angels. Next they will be trying to remove statues of Biblical figures. (It’s already happened, but some people blocked some idiots from desecrating a statue on church property).
    Do not think that a lot of the American people are not noticing all this. A movement in our area has begun to have a Police Appreciation Week. Not all of the American citizens hate the police.

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  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    BTW you could throw Harry Truman in there as one of the lesser-known racister-racist Presidents

    While true, I would argue that Truman is an example of a President who, when it came to race, governed better than how he was raised. There are all too many examples of Presidents who exalted expediency over morality.

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  36. Teve says:

    Where did I see that graphic about the same states that voted for Wilson voted for Trump?

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  37. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But we’re now doing it without throwing in the good at all. We’re literally taking down statues to the general who won the war that freed slavery because he owned a single slave.

    Who is this “we” you refer to? You’re doing exactly what I was complaining about — lumping together a disparate collection of overlapping and roughly aligned viewpoints into a false unity, then “scoring” the result to decide whether it’s acceptable or not.

    I am not pulling down statues of Grant; you are not pulling down statues of Grant; Eleanor Holmes Norton is not pulling down statues of Grant. None of the commenters in this thread advocate pulling down statues of Grant. I suspect that no one you could name is advocating for pulling down statues of Grant. How do you get to “we” from there?

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  38. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: There should be stiff penalties for the persons who took down the Grant monument. And extra penalties for ignorance of history. Some states and cities are looking at new laws to protect monuments. There is a process that can be followed if someone has a gripe with a particular street name, building name, monument, flag, or car model name (Cadillac, Navajo, Tahoe, Mustang, Jeep). Go through the proper channels. That is what I have to do; as in waiting three hours on the IRS phone line. Most Americans do not go out tearin’ everything up that they have some gripe with.
    You are seeing the results of many of the school systems that no longer teach US history.
    Most people nowadays would not know anything about the War of 1812: the first and last invasion of this country. They would not know of the leadership and courage of James Madison. That war was not only the strangest but an important turning point in US history. It could have turned out all different.

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  39. @James Joyner:

    But it’s a one-day message

    No. The name change is a one day event and the new name is a forever thing (or, at least, until they name it something else).

    But can we still name cars and trucks after him?

    I would not object if they changed the name, and even see an argument for doing so. I suppose an argument could be made that a “Ford” is now a pickup truck in a way that the Wilson school could never avoid being named about Wilson. (And Fords weren’t called Fords to honor Ford’s ideas, but because he named his company after himself).

    There is a longer conversation to be had about names as I recognize that in some cases names lose all connections in the broader population over time. But no one has forgotten who Wilson is, nor Lee nor Davis nor Wallace, etc. who still are on our schools and roads and buildings and their names were applied to those items for explicitly political purposes.

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  40. @JKB:

    He was not caught up in the shifting mores of his time, he brought forward the legacy of the Democratic party into the 20th century.

    I agree–the Democrats had a terribly racist history in the late 19th and well into the 20th century.

    Who is saying otherwise?

    The question is: what point do you think you are making here?

    And, I would note, the issue shouldn’t be protecting or denigrating party labels to score cheap points, it should be about confronting and addressing racism in the context of historical truth.

    To make this into some weird party gotcha game comes across as not taking the racism part seriously. Is that your intent?

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  41. @Northerner:

    I’m just pointing out what I think is the problem with not being able to separate the good someone does from their flaws. Wilson did both good and bad, but the feeling is that his bad taints his good. Why shouldn’t that apply to Ford as well?

    It should, and I didn’t say it shouldn’t. I was trying to conjure an example of using a practice or process invented by someone versus honoring their name.

    Do you not see the difference between using a process a person created or contributed to versus honoring them in a public way by naming a building after them or putting up a statue?

    They will still teach about the League of Nations at Princeton, but the school of public policy and international affairs doesn’t have to be named after him to do so.

    I feel like you are conflating removing optional honors of someone with erasure. No one is erasing Woodrow Wilson from history by removing his name from a place of honor.

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  42. @Northerner:

    If you can’t separate the art from the artist,

    BTW, sometimes you can’t (or, at least, I can’t). I simply cannot Bill Cosby’s comedy any longer.

    But, that’s not what we are talking about here. Taking Wilson’s name off a school of public affairs is not about the art/artist distinction. It is about whether we honor him with a special recognition or not.

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  43. @Tyrell:

    Where is the line?

    How about we stop the practice of honoring the CSA and others who explicitly supported slavery, Jim Crow, and the like.

    Three of the High Schools in Montgomery, AL are named after CSA figures: Davis, Lee, and Lannier. And those are just the most obvious examples.

    The city seal says “Cradle of the Confederacy” on it. Why are we celebrating that?

    Indeed, if we had addressed this before now like we should have, we likely wouldn’t be having this broader dive into symbols.

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  44. JohnMcC says:

    @MarkedMan: Truman’s legacy (not the same thing as actual events at the time!) has been the racial integration of the armed forces. Wilson was linked to women’s suffrage. Mass production of interchangeable parts was pioneered by Samuel Colt, not Henry Ford.

    History is complicated. Myths are not. Statues and memorials are about myths.

    @Steven L. Taylor: I recall as (I think) a 3rd grader in Montgomery going on a school trip to the State Capital and seeing the bronze star on the portico that marked the EXACT SPOT from which Jeff Davis declared the CSA to be an independent nation. That was a VERRRY long time ago (? 1953). That’s what myth does. No history I ever learned has the memory-authority that that stupid bronze star has.

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  45. James Joyner says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I recall as (I think) a 3rd grader in Montgomery going on a school trip to the State Capital and seeing the bronze star on the portico that marked the EXACT SPOT from which Jeff Davis declared the CSA to be an independent nation. That was a VERRRY long time ago (? 1953). That’s what myth does. No history I ever learned has the memory-authority that that stupid bronze star has.

    Personally, I can argue either way as to whether Jeff Davis ought have statues. There’s a good argument for leaving them up while adding signage that teaches about the evils of slavery, dispels myths about the Lost Cause, etc. And there are good arguments for simply taking them out of public spaces and moving them to museums and the like. Where there is history around the erection of monuments, the monuments themselves aren’t history.

    But, goodness, I hope we don’t take down historical markers like that star. That very much is history.

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  46. @Northerner: I think all of this is a straw man. No one is “canceling” Woodrow Wilson. And moreover, even “cancel culture” is not actually erasing people from history.

    I just think you are arguing with an imagined reality, and not the one at hand.

    What am I missing? What is the specific example you are concerned about?

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  47. @JohnMcC: That star is still there.

    @James Joyner:

    But, goodness, I hope we don’t take down historical markers like that star. That very much is history.

    I largely agree, but it still comes across as honoring Davis and ignoring what secession meant, and the reasons for it.

    If the star noted that “on this spot, Jefferson Davis founded a rebellion against the United States to protect and perpetuate an economy based on slavery” then, awesome. But that is not the signal that is sent, especially given other iconography in the city.

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  48. grumpy realist says:

    Idiot ex-friend of mine who has gone down the Trump rabbit hole is moaning like crazy about this renaming and insisting that this is a knee-jerk reaction that shows how much America is in the grips of “cancel culture”, etc. etc. and so forth. Of course, he never bothered to read the release put out by the university….

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  49. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The question is: what point do you think you are making here?

    That no one should be allowed to criticize Republicans for being racist now because no one who mattered criticized Democrats for being racist then?

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  50. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Perhaps replace the star with a square or rectangular plaque. I agree that a star connotes approval, or honor.

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  51. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If the star noted that “on this spot, Jefferson Davis founded a rebellion against the United States to protect and perpetuate an economy based on slavery” then, awesome. But that is not the signal that is sent, especially given other iconography in the city. [emphasis added]

    Exactly! It was said by someone (attributed to Chairman Mao, but I suspect he wasn’t the first) that history is written in the voice of the winners. It’s about time that the society that won that war started telling it’s history using their own voice, especially in the South.

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  52. Tyrell says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thanks for the reply.
    Other: Henry Ford does have a “monument” so to speak: the amazing Ford GT 40 that defeated the Ferrari racing team at LeMans. Though it was the dream of his son, Henry would have been proud of this crowning achievement. And the whole country was proud. I went to the Ford Museum in Detroit. A wonder to behold. Cars of all types, and airplanes. I also went to the massive River Rouge plant.
    Ford executives said yesterday that the economic conditions will not affect their commitment to their racing program.

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  53. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: Wilson’s racism, notorious though it was, should not blind us to the fact that, by announcing “self-determination” as a goal of our participation in World War I, he helped undermine the foundations of colonialism. Of course, it took between thirty and fifty years to bear fruit.

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  54. reid says:

    @LaMont: Even Ted Cruz (a US Senator) recently felt the need to tweet something along the same lines, trying to associate Democrats of today with Democrats from 100+ years ago. It’s quite stupid and is yet another reason to vote these fools out.

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  55. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Gosh, (shuffles feet…) little ol’ story got a bit of interest. Would not advocate removing that star and was curiously happy that it’s still there.

    But it kind of illustrates the power of — historical reminders of a certain kind. Of the physical manifestation of an inward and spiritual grace to borrow a phrase.

    I remember feeling that something very heroic had happened there.

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  56. Northerner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I’d already said I didn’t think what is happening with Wilson was a problem, and that I wasn’t talking about that. In fact I said straight out that I was on a tangent, switching from renaming to canceling (as in canceling TV shows or lectures etc) and so completely ignoring Wilson who wasn’t canceled, because I find canceling to be a far more issue interesting than renaming things. Renaming strikes me as pretty straight forward and unproblematic — its done all the time, often simply as a form of advertising (ie renaming a stadium to whoever pays more).

    You could certainly say my tangent doesn’t belong in this thread (and ignore everything I wrote or simply delete it as irrelevant to the topic), but I don’t see why you think I’m against renaming things given that I explicitly said I didn’t think renaming Wilson or anyone else was a problem. Canceling on the other hand I find more complex and interesting.

    Having people on forums going on tangents can be irritating, so I apologize for that. I’m just surprised that you didn’t simply ignore it though.

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  57. An Interested Party says:

    Wilson’s racism, notorious though it was, should not blind us to the fact that, by announcing “self-determination” as a goal of our participation in World War I, he helped undermine the foundations of colonialism.

    Indeed, and in one of history’s great ironies, look at who was inspired by Wilson’s grand words…

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  58. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @An Interested Party: True. I used to offer that to my students as an example of historical irony.

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