I suppose I’m not utterly convinced that Princeton should change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School; Wilson was a two-term President, and is particularly important to Princeton as an institution. He’s not nearly as disposable as John C. Calhoun, for example. But it’s unquestionably positive that student activism has forced a public conversation on Wilson’s central “achievements:”
Leaving 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. 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 re-segregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been been surprisingly integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier. At a April 11, 1913, cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Albert Burleson argued for segregating the Railway Mail Service. He objected to the fact that workers shared glasses, towels, and washrooms. 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.”
In effect, Wilson killed the last, best part of Reconstruction. While I don’t necessarily support expunging him, it’s fair to say that we (both generally, and specifically the institutions that lionize Wilson) need to grapple with this.