Persona Non Grata: Princeton Agrees To Explore Removing Woodrow Wilson’s Image and Name In Agreement With Protesters

220px-Princeton_shield.svgThomas_Woodrow_Wilson,_Harris_&_Ewing_bw_photo_portrait,_1919Princeton University has agreed to explore the removal of the name and images of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from buildings and school programs under a deal signed with protesters who objected to Wilson’s support of segregation, which was legal at the time. This action occurs as Harvard Law students have demanded the dropping of the school seal due to a connection to a slaveholder.


Princeton has long (and rightfully) been proud of its association with Wilson. Wilson, besides being the 28th President of the United States, was the thirteenth president of Princeton. He was also a member of the Class of 1879. As president, Wilson helped transform the school into a major world-class university, including a restructuring of departments and investment in new innovations and buildings. He was a brilliant academic whose writings are still widely cited (indeed, I have both praised and criticized those writings in different respects).

eisgruber-sidebarThe recent protests were led by “Black Justice League” and involved a 32-hour sit-in outside Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber’s office. The students also demanded a cultural competency and diversity training program and to designate space on campus for “cultural affinity” groups. Eisgruber agreed to consider stripping the school of its most renown association and praised the protesters for their “willingness . . . to work with us to find a way forward”.

This would involve removing a large number of portraits and references, including Wilson’s name on the university’s world renown Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

While Wilson was a leader of the Progressive Movement he also supported racial segregation, which was not banned until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Harold_Wilson_(6)I believe such an effort would unfair to Wilson and deeply regrettable for the university. Wilson was truly a great leader both for his achievements as an academic and a world leader. I have serious qualms about various views of Wilson including the position on segregation. There was also his support for the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 to suppress the war movement — leading to the Palmer raids. I have long been a critic of those Wilsonian era effects. However, his work also included his foundational work on the League of Nations and the creation of new international principles to avoid wars. He was a voice for incorporating moral principles into international law. Wilson was critical in moving American foreign policy from isolation to internationalism and many credit him with laying the bedrock principles for international law. He was a critic of European imperialism and called for national self-determination for ethic groups. While many may disagree with the policies, he also laid the foundation for banking reform under the Federal Reserve System as well as support for labor and collective bargaining. While many would later call his brand of idealism in international law naive, it was a different view of the role of international organizations. Indeed, while the League of Nations failed, it became a model for the United Nations. We can hold strong views against positions of past leaders like Wilson while recognizing that they played a transformative role in other areas like international law as well as academic contributions.

It is also important to note that segregation principles not just the majority viewpoint of Americans at the time but the law. Many people at the time — not the least of which was the United Supreme Court justices — believed that “separate but equal” was constitutional.  Brown v. Board of Education was not handed down until 1954 in finding that segregation violated the Constitution.  That was 30 years after the death of Woodrow Wilson.

The effort to sanitize our history ignores one of the key components of the intellectual exercise on campuses: to consider sources and writings in their historical and social context. This does not mean that Wilson should not be identified as a segregationist and his legacy balanced against such views. However, it is important to consider the time in which he lived and lead. There is much about Wilson to be celebrated and honored, particularly at the school that he helped make one of the world’s greatest educational institutions.

62 thoughts on “Persona Non Grata: Princeton Agrees To Explore Removing Woodrow Wilson’s Image and Name In Agreement With Protesters”

  1. Woodrow Jim Crow Wilson was a step below George Wallace. Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. That is your legacy guy Princeton.

  2. The East Coast snobs such as the Wilson family, Roosevelt family, Kennedy family, Bush family, all look down their buggery noses at politicians from outside the snot rag East Coast klan. They dubbed Harry Truman as “that failed haberdasher”. Yet it was Harry who integrated the armed forces by Executive Order after WWII. LBJ is dissed, dissed, and pissed on by the East Coast snobs and yet it took LBJ to break some arms and get the Civil Rights Act passed. And yes, Brown v. Board of Education came along in 1954. But it had a narrow focus. The Voting Rights Act was also passed by LBJ arm twisting in 1965.

    But Nick: get started on that Kennedy Klan. About the best thing Johnboy and Bobby did was both pork Marilyn in the same night.

  3. Feminists call Bill “You better put some ice on that” Clinton, a feminist. Liberals call LBJ a champion of black people. LBJ called the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Bill his “Nigger Bills” that would keep black people voting Dem for a century. Wilson was a Progressive, and like most Progressives, a duplicitous, incompetent, condescending, hypocrite. The truth, well it be a mofo!

  4. The article says: “While Wilson was a leader of the Progressive Movement he also supported racial segregation, which was not banned until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

    But: The 14th Amendment banned racial segregation. With each Amendment there is a final provision which says that Congress shall have the authority to pass legislation to enforce the Amendment. Congress took until 1964 under LBJ to do so. Woodrow Wilson’s actions are what we call “Jim Crow”.

    Woodrow Jim Crow Wilson. Go make the world safe for democracy Jimbo.

    1. BD Wilson’s campaign wanted to present him as a Progressive, but the facts show that he was NOT any leader in that movement. In fact, his opponents in both elections had as great or greater claim to that title than Wilson. Teddy Roosevelt ran on the Progressive Party ticket and as TR said of the second campaign, the only difference between Wilson and Hughes was a shave, they were so similar in their programs. So using the label progressive for Wilson is false, unless you wish to stretch that term beyond recognition. Given the fact that the Socialist Party was gaining ground and got 3% of the vote, there was ample reason for both parties to cater to the progressive movement. Then it cannot be forgotten that it was the Wilson regime which sent Gene Debs to prison for his speech as well as sending thousands of other Americans there for their speech and writings.

      As for racial segregation being only outlawed until 1964, the fact is that happened well before with the Brown vs Topeka SCOTUS case which declared separate and equal to be wrong in 1954. Thus segregation had been outlawed long before the Civil Rights Act in many venues. The Plessy vs Ferguson case was an example of extreme judicial activism in which the SCOTUS overturned the 14th Amendment, which is not their right.

  5. Liberals got the Confederate Flag banned from history. They are now purging and rewriting history. The Confederate flag “victory” got them hooked. We now got us a country full of liberal junkies, running amuck and showing who they truly are.

  6. Out of crisis, and in spite of feckless leadership, much good came out of the horrendous Flu Pandemic of 1918/19. Modern medicine was really born in the heat of the pandemic. Johns Hopkins became the great research institution it is today because of the crisis. A great book on the subject that I highly recommend is, The Great Influenza by John M Barry.

    Regardless of what the fly boy says[he loves to drop dissembling bombs], Woodrow Wilson was the “great” Progressive of his time. However, because of his arrogance, condescension, and political rigidity[sound like any modern day Progressive Prez???] 675,000 Americans died in the Flu Pandemic of 1918/19. Wilson obsessed on WW1, showing cold indifference to the safety of his own people[sound familiar?]. Wilson was a Progressive college professor who had no business being President[spooky similarities]. The fly boy and other liberals will be disowning Obama soon, just like they have dumped their former love, Woodrow Wilson.

  7. These “demands” to do as these students say because their feelings are being hurt are a rabbit hole we don’t need to go down. Once we’ve wiped out all references to our white past won’t white then have the right to demand their history be represented? That’s just an example of the logical end of such immature and foolish action of course. This kind of thing is beginning to echo the cultural revolution in China which was not exactly a great thing. All of Prof. Turely’s points are spot on and that is the viewpoint that must prevail on this. If it doesn’t, the eventual white backlash will set back everything the student activists are really working for.

  8. Max:

    “Four articles in a row taunting racial disparities in America.”

    No. I disagree. The focus is the suppression of free speech at universities. People getting fired for merely complaining when protestors make the absurd comment that it’s unfair that the Paris terrorist massacre took attention away from them.

    And I don’t think I’m an “ugly, bigoted person” for my opinion.

    Your comment gives the impression that Professor Turley supports racial discrimination or intolerance, but I believe you know that is not the case.

  9. This just seems to me like a waste of time, effort, and talent.

    Whatever happened to making the world a better place? Helping others? Becoming successful and financially stable? Doing something with your life?

    Our youngest generation is hyper focused on offense and their own feelings.

    They need to go join the Peace Corps and dig a well, build an orphanage, or do something meaningful that will connect them with others. They need a wake up call that they are not the center of the universe.

  10. So…all references to Thomas Jefferson will similarly be expunged everywhere? George Washington? What about Lincoln, who although he freed the slaves, would still not pass muster with contemporary values, because he was the product of his times?

    I agree with DBQ. Amend historical accounts to include all the facts, the good and the bad. But do not sanitize history. Do not remove statues and references and pretend we all evolved over the past 30,000 years in the framework of San Francisco of today.

  11. America became great through freedom, self-reliance and free enterprise without governmental

    interference, not through a despotic welfare “Frankenstate.”

    America became great before the advent of the very incoherent “newspeak,” “multiculturalism” – an

    oxymoronic contradiction in terms – culture is singular.

    American freedom and free enterprise took America to a position of global hegemony.

    Collectivism, “compassion,” bleeding-heart, psycho-babbling liberalism, “multiculturalism” and the 19th

    amendment have destroyed American “exceptionalism” and America, the nation.

  12. <i.The point is NOT to expunge history,but to remove obnoxious persons who have not contributed to the advance of civilization and who deserve no honor of recognition

    That IS the definition of expunging. Now, if you all want to update the historical record with facts that may have been omitted which would tarnish the shine that some historical figures have, I don’t have any problem with that. Updating. Not removing or erasing.

    For instance….hypothetically….. “historical figure A did X things. At one time historical figure A was revered and elevated for these reasons. However, since we now know that historical figure A also did Y and Z, in retrospect the revered status should be demoted. And here are the reasons why.”

    If you all think that Wilson was a horrible President and a bad person, then you should explain why and also take into consideration the times that he was living in. I don’t know enough about Wilson but am interested in hearing about him and making my own decision.

    It is a huge mistake to judge people from the past based on our own current morality. We need to put people’s thoughts and actions into context of the times in which they lived and in the morality of the times. Do do so is to become myopic and unable to understand the sweeping changes of history or the dynamics behind the historical actions of the past.

  13. The point is NOT to expunge history,but to remove obnoxious persons who have not contributed to the advance of civilization and who deserve no honor of recognition. Just as the Soviets got rid of Stalin statues and cities named for him, we should not honor those who had a rather baneful effect on our country. Wilson’s contributions were not so great as to override the terrible things he did. So I have no problem with FDR being honored despite interning the Japanese Americans, since he did far more good than the occasional error. Wilson was no progressive in 1912 and what he did that did smack of progressive acts was done under force of others. I read some of the legislation that was supposed to be progressive and they sure did not do anything along the progressive line. Unless you think establishing the Federal Reserve to profit private banking is a populist measure.

    He cynically used his platform to woo black voters in the North and then quickly betrayed them by segregating DC and the civil service. That is hardly progressive. His ideas of spreading “democracy” only applied to WHITE MEN. He was opposed to giving women the right to vote on a national level and thought states rights should govern that as well as most other things. So i still find no reason to term him a progressive and keep the term having any meaning. There were just as many truly progressive Republican as Democrats. Remember LaFollete and La Guardia?

  14. Sciencegeek, I think if you compared Wilson with The founders that would be unfair as well. Come on you all he was horrible. The Federal Reserve Act. The revenue act of 1913 and he was s racist and separatists that instituted many social programs that have come back to bit us in the butt economically.

    Dust Bunny that made me laugh. That’s exactly what I feel like though. I sit back and see my fellow Citizens get hoodwinks by the so-called progressives a/k/a socialists and Marxists agenda of the ruling oligarchy. The working class can’t figure out why the ruling class likes all the social policies. Who do they think sells the governments all the computers, operating software, signs, guns, paper, etc. etc. etc.

    As I say, it is not that any one social policy is that bad for your economy, it’s the fifty thousand of them collectively draining the resources of the once most prosperous middle class in the world. It is really hard to both watch and experience myself. Consciousness is I often think a curse. I laugh and joke a lot to keep my sanity.

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