The Slatest

Princeton Decides to Keep Woodrow Wilson’s Name on Campus Buildings Despite Racist Past

Blair Arch at Princeton University.


Princeton University announced Monday it would not remove former president Woodrow Wilson’s name from the New Jersey campus despite a student-led movement to scrub references to the 28th president because of racist, segregationist views. The university was forced to reconsider Wilson’s presence on campus, including the school’s well-known Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, after students last year began questioning whether it was appropriate to exalt an avowed segregationist.

Here’s more on how the issue came to a head from the New York Times:

Wilson has been a much-loved figure at Princeton, but in September, the Black Justice League, a student activist group, distributed posters around campus that revealed his views on race, including his comment to an African-American leader that segregation “is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” As president of the United States, Wilson reinstituted segregation in the federal work force, admired the Ku Klux Klan and believed that black Americans were not worthy of full citizenship… Following a racially charged 32-hour sit-in in November, Christopher L. Eisgruber, the university president, signed an agreement to consider removing Wilson’s name from Princeton’s public policy school and a residential college because of Wilson’s views on race… In the months after the sit-in, the board appointed the Wilson Legacy Review Committee to consider how the university should recognize Wilson, who before two terms in the White House was New Jersey’s governor and Princeton’s president. The committee invited scholars and community members to comment online and in small groups.

Wilson served as the president of the university from 1902 until 1910 before going on to win the presidency several years later. The legacy committee agreed that there was legitimate concern about Wilson and “the position he took as Princeton’s president to prevent the enrollment of black students and the policies he instituted as U.S. president that resulted in the re-segregation of the federal civil service.” The committee, however, said it made its recommendations based on a contextual understanding of the former president. “Princeton must openly and candidly recognize that Wilson, like other historical figures, leaves behind a complex legacy of both positive and negative repercussions, and that the use of his name implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times,” the university said in a press release Monday. “We have said that in this report, and the University must say it in the settings that bear his name.”

“We are not surprised by this decision; after all, Princeton, as an institution, has scarcely been ahead of its time or on the right side of history,” the Black Justice League said in a statement on the decision. “[W]hile we are not surprised, we are, disappointed nevertheless.”