Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24, 2015--The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge

There is a move afoot on the campus of Princeton University to take Woodrow Wilson's name off campus facilities  and academic programs such as the residential complex, Wilson College and the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

This because Wilson, who served as Princeton's president from 1902 to 1910 before becoming Governor of New Jersey and than the 28th president of the United States, was an unrepentant racist.

Among other things, he said--

To an African-American leader that "segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you."

And, he wrote about "a great Ku Klux Klan," that came into being to rid whites of "the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes."

Regarding Princeton itself, during Wilson's tenure as president, no blacks were admitted. But this is only part of the Princeton story--this Ivy institution did not enroll African Americans until 1940, fully 30 years after Wilson stepped down as president. So there is a lot to criticize and atone for.

As a footnote, Jews were not welcomed until about the same time and even in my day, under pressure from my father who was prestige- and assimilation-oriented, I applied and was somehow admitted. I was subsequently told by a prominent alum that there were no eating clubs on campus that welcomed Jews and so, if he had advice to offer, I should . . .

Which I did and went to Columbia instead, which by then, having shed its Jewish quota, begrudgingly admitted and made sort of welcome my kind.

So I can understand the pressure minority Princeton students are putting on the administration to take down Wilson's name. In a throwback to the 1960s, to get their way, a group last week occupied the president's office.

The faculty now has promised to consider these demands and, knowing faculty as I so well do, I feel certain the outcome is inevitable.

The Princeton situation may turn out to be just prologue.

Looking at the history of American presidents who proceeded Wilson, fully 12 of them were more than racist--they owned slaves.

George Washington owned 250-350, Jefferson 200 (including Sally Hemmings), Madison more than 100, Monroe 75, Jackson about 200, Van Buren "just" one, Tyler 70, Polk 25, Taylor 150, Johnson (Lincoln's vice president) 8, and Grant (Lincoln's favorite general) enslaved 5.

If Wilson's name is to come off one of Princeton's student residence halls, shouldn't we also change the name of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge that crosses the Potomac outside Washington, DC? And what about the 13 American cities named for Jefferson? Or the names of James Madison University and Madison, Wisconsin?

What about those 21 counties in as many states named for Andrew Jackson, who, recall, owned about 200 slaves?

And then there is our nation's Capitol itself. It is named for our first president who owned at least 250 human beings. Is this acceptable with today's racial consciousness?

What then might be a politically correct new name for Washington? There is also a movement there to change the name of their football team--from the Redskins to . . .?

I welcome suggestions.

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