Protesters have vandalized statues and monuments of historical figures ranging from Catholic saints to Confederate leaders. Across the country, vandals have lopped heads off of statues and defaced them for having spotted histories.
In some cases, like in the case of the St. Junipero Serra statue that was torn down in California, the accusations made by aren’t accurate. But in the case of Princeton University — where it was decided that former President Woodrow Wilson’s name would be removed from the university’s public policy school because of Wilson’s racism — the accusations of bigotry are well-founded.
After students of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs sent a letter to the university’s administration requesting the name change, the college heeded the call, the New York Times reported.
Wilson was the 28th president of the U.S. and a Democrat. Before being president, he served as president of Princeton and was governor of New Jersey. Wilson was a racist by the standards of his day and by ours. (RELATED: Woodrow Wilson’s Name To Be Removed From Princeton School)
Once Wilson became president, he fired 15 out of 17 black supervisors in the federal service and replaced them with white people, according to Thirteen. The federal government also began to require photographs on job applications in 1914 to screen out black candidates.
Wilson oversaw the resegregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been integrated as a result of Reconstruction following the Civil War. When Postmaster General Albert Burleson argued for segregating the Railway Mail Service, Wilson offerened no objection, according to Vox.
The Department of Treasury and the Post Office Department followed Wilson’s lead, introducing screened-off workspaces, separate lunchrooms and separate bathrooms, according to Government Executive. Black people who couldn’t be segregated due to the nature of his work were put in cages to separate them from white people, according to Vox. Furthermore, when these two departments began segregating, many black workers were fired.
When a group of black professionals met with Wilson to protest the segregation, Wilson told civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter, one of the men, that his tone and manner offended him, according to White House History. Trotter had insisted that desegregation had allowed whites and blacks to work together in “harmony and friendliness” for 50 years prior to Wilson’s presidency.
“If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman,” Wilson said according to Vox.
Influential pro-civil rights journalist Oswald Garrison Villard was taken seriously by the White House in his attempts to inform Wilson on the subject of racial issues, but the segregation policies were never reversed.
Republicans like Massachusetts Rep. John J. Rogers introduced resolutions urging investigations into the treatment of black government employees, but the measures never received hearings.
When Wilson was elected to the presidency in 1913, southern racists applauded the turnout. Wilson’s most famous book “A History of the American People” was reportedly “steeped in Lost Cause mythology,” which bolstered the Confederacy and was sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan.
In his book, Wilson also attacked Reconstruction, writing that “the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded,” according to Vox.
He also called black suffrage a “menace to society itself that the negroes should thus of a sudden be set free and left without tutelage or restraint.”
Although it may seem that many monuments, like that of abolitionist Matthias Baldwin in Philadelphia, were wantonly defaced and ordered removed from the public square by the mob, Princeton’s removal of Woodrow Wilson’s likeness from campus for a racist past holds up to historical scrutiny.