Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Woodrow Wilson, Princeton, Segregation, Earl Warren, LBJ, et al
The Black Justice League at Princeton staged a 32 hour sit-in in the President’s Office last fall. Their demands included the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from programs and buildings at Princeton. Wilson was a rabid segregationist, even as President. We associate him with Princeton, but Woodrow Wilson as a child of the South, the defeated, broken, dispirited South, the South of the Lost Cause. President Wilson was born in 1856 in Staunton, Virginia and raised in Georgia and South Carolina. His parents were ardent supporters of the Confederacy. Woodrow Wilson is of the South, the South, whose political leaders were rabid segregationists well into the second half of the 20th Century. Even President Johnson was a member of the segregationist wing of the Democratic Party, until he became President and was in a position to end segregation through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Wilson grew up in the South which repressed the freed slaves almost as soon as the Civil War ended, and whom the North soon turned its back on. He is of the South where a young Alabama attorney joined the KKK, and became known to history as Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. We honor Justice Black for his service to the country. Two aircraft carriers, the Carl Vinson and John Stennis, are named for ardent segregationist Southern politicians. We honor them because of their Congressional service to the nation’s military. Princeton honors Woodrow Wilson not only for his Presidency of the United States, but also for his Presidency of Princeton. A history of Princeton shows that his changes and reorganization at Princeton set it on its road to greatness over the past century. Princeton rejected the demand of the Black Justice League to remove President Wilson’s name from the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Woodrow Wilson Residential College. FDR’s Administration was known for anti-Semitism and turning its back on Jewish refugees. The Roosevelt Administration also made a Faustian bargain with the Southern Segregationist Senators and Representatives to keep them as a critical component of the Roosevelt coalition. Anti-Semitism is spreading rapidly through the progressive, some would say, radical left in Europe and the United States. Let’s take this clearly racist statement: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. That I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, not to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together in terms of social or political equality. And insomuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Quite a racist statement by today’s standards! Who uttered these racist remarks? None other than the Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln on September 18, 1858 in Charleston, Illinois during the fourth of the famous Lincoln-Douglass Debates. His comments received no criticism at the time because they reflected the times. Abraham Lincoln abhorred slavery, but didn’t think much of the black people. We remember President Lincoln, as we should, by his great deeds, not these racist comments. The Ivies practiced racism and anti-Semitism in their admissions practices until recently. One can argue that they still discriminate against Asian American applicants. An activist minority, often the same voices seeking safe zones and trigger warnings, are seeking to remove all indicia of the Confederacy and slave owners from our historical record: place names, flags, monuments from states to small towns. So far, only Stone Mountain seems exempt. They want to rewrite history. I’ve said many times Chief Justice Earl Warren, leader of the activist Warren Court, in his earlier career as Attorney General of California was one of the two most responsible officials for the internment of our Japanese citizens in concentration camps during World war II. His name remains on the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Justice at the University of California Berkeley, one of the nation’s most progressive universities. Attorney General Warren was not acting as a great civil libertarian in the internment of the Japanese Americans, but as an ambitious politician playing to the biases of the California voters, who practiced a century of anti-Asian discrimination against the “Yellow Peril.”. We honor him because of his contributions to social justice in the United States. The list goes on: the crest of Harvard Law School, Calhoun College at Yale, General Robert E. Lee at Washington and Lee College, the Brown in Brown University How about colleges and universities named for Robber Barons: Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Drew, Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon? How about tobacco money behind Duke University? Rewriting history, excising the unseemly by today’s standards, produces ignorance, dangerous ignorance. Shades of George Orwell’s 1984. We all read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school. I wonder how many students read those books today.