"I'm shocked, shocked!, to find that gambling is going on in here!"
Princeton University has honored and revered Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879. He was born in Virginia in 1856, was Princeton's President 1902-1910, was President of the United States 1913-1920, and died in 1924. (Trivia question, what was Woodrow Wilson's middle name?) The Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is revered worldwide and was Princeton's only selective major when I was there as a member of the Class of 1978. I lived in Wilson College, one of the residential communities. Wilson's name is just about everywhere.
Historically, Wilson was a Democrat and is associated with the Progressive movement. He openly rejected the traditional values in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States declaring them "obsolete."
Recently, there has been a furor that revered Princeton hero Woodrow Wilson was a racist, in particular that he didn't like Negroes (as Blacks and African Americans were called in his time). I think it's worth a moment to reflect not on his racial attitudes but on the notion that they're a surprise to anybody with a high school diploma, not to mention an Ivy-League-college education.
In 1854, two years before Presidents Wilson was born, the Democratic-Republican party split into the Democratic Party pushing to extend slavery in the United States and the abolitionist Republican Party opposing slavery entirely. A bloody war was fought over the race-slavery issue with the Republicans winning in 1865. What ensued from that conflict in the Democratic Party were Jim Crow laws to keep Blacks segregated and an underground organization called the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Both of these were vehemently racist and both were fundamental parts of Wilson's Democratic Party and fundamental parts of the Democrat-Republican difference. From 1854 through 1912, it was all about race.
Princeton University was no haven for Blacks at that time. It wasn't until 1942 that Princeton admitted its first Black students.
The left-wing Democrats formed a new movement during Wilson's time in the White House, the belief that Science should be an important part of public policy. The science-in-politics of the day was called "eugenics." In its noble form, it was a quest to produce better human beings through selective breeding. The dark side of eugenics was a quest to remove "imbeciles" (Blacks mostly) from the population through forced contraception and sterilization. In 1920 Margaret Sanger formed the Planned Parenthood organization to carry out the mission of forced contraception of Blacks. This was part of the Progressive political views that Wilson actively promoted.
So what racial view do we expect of a political figure in a party that promoted slavery and forced segregation, suppressed Blacks both politically and violently, and created a scientific mission to breed Blacks out of the population? I believe anybody other than a racist person would have been vehemently repelled by those views.
So Wilson was racist and I think it's obvious he had to be racist. Does that make him a bad person? Was widely-admired folk-singer Pete Seeger a bad person for supporting Stalin, Hitler, and Ho Chi Minh? That's a decision for another place and another time, but the realization that Woodrow Wilson had less-than-pure thoughts on the subject of Black people in America can't possibly surprise anybody who is paying attention.
While we could ask why those who supported Wilson's role in history weren't paying attention to his race attitudes and policies. My point here, in this section, is that Wilson's racism had to be clear then, now, and at any point in history between then and now. The notion that somehow we discovered Wilson's racism is as credible as Captain Renault's exclaiming that he's shocked, shocked!, to find that gambling in Rick's casino, in the classic movie "Casablanca."
This fuss has the awful aroma of somebody publicly making the racism point about Wilson and the Old-Princeton community doing damage control by feigning outrage. "Gosh, we didn't know!"
So let's explore why the Princeton community may not have been as sensitive to racism as I think they should have been. (This is the not-so-nice part of my essay, by the way.)
There has been a community here in the United States of America that felt that the institution of slavery and its accompanying racism were terrible things. It's easy to identify that movement with the nineteenth century, the abolitionists and those who fought Jim Crow laws. Today we all seem to agree that Jim Crow laws were terrible, but the issues and attitudes are still with us, more than ever I think.
What happened to Jim Crow? It became forced segregation. When the civil-rights movement rubbed progressive noses in their dirt, it became forced integration and, more recently, the vile racism of Affirmative Action. If they couldn't keep Blacks away, then they could infantilize and marginalize them. "He got the job because of racial preference." When this preference is true much of the time, it puts terrible pressure on those who really earn it. Additionally, Affirmative Action makes Blacks dependent on the liberal-progressive community for their livelihood, a good way to keep them voting Democrat.
So where did Princeton University stand on these issues? Did it stand up for racial equality and equal treatment? Alas, no, it did not. Prior to the civil-rights movement, it simply made it very difficult for Blacks to enroll. Afterward, in response to public sentiment, and more in response to federal funding, it instituted racially-biased policies in admission. I understand the White-Black difference has been about 200 SAT points or two full grade points, the difference between an A student and a C student. Alternative courses were developed for the new students who didn't meet the standards.
When I was at Princeton 1974-1978 the whole race issue was cloaked in doublespeak and secrecy and lies. The housing agency vehemently denied there was any race component in freshman room assignment. They claimed roommate assignment was random which would have meant a 12% Black community would have 22.5% mixed-race doubles (do the math) while there were almost no mixed-race roommates in reality. When they could choose their rooms, most Black students chose to live together in the New New Quad south of Wilson College. There was clearly a Black Princeton within our university.
There was a community of Black students who didn't hang out there. They chose to be a part of White Princeton, they lived in dormatories north of "Goheen Walk" (on Google Maps), and they took traditionally Princeton-hard courses. I knew one fellow who carefully avoided sending pictures on his graduate-school applications so he would be chosen for his merits and not his skin color.
With this understanding of Princeton's attitudes on race through the twentieth century and beyond, is it a surprise that they wouldn't look too closely at racial attitudes of an important figure in its history?
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