Princeton University has decided to remove the name of former US President Woodrow Wilson from a building on its campus because of his racist beliefs and policies.
University trustees concluded that Wilson’s “racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college,” Princeton’s president said on Saturday.
Woodrow Wilson’s name was removed because of his racist attitudes
The unprecedented move – unimagined only few years ago – follows a wave of protests across the US sparked by the death of African-American man George Floyd. Wilson was US president from 1913 to 1921 and helped to establish the League of Nations, a forerunner of the UN.
Princeton University was confronted by a similar debate in 2016 but had decided to keep his name attached to its prestigious Pubic Policy School – but now times have clearly changed. Like Rosa Parks refusal in 1950’s to vacate her bus seat in Alabama, George Floyd’s death has created a new America in many ways.
Read more: Unrest over George Floyd murder wreaks havoc in US
However, he supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies. He also barred black students from Princeton while serving as university president and spoke approvingly of the Ku Klux Klan.
Princeton University is renaming its public policy school in light of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's racist policies. https://t.co/3n0TXm2ipd
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) June 27, 2020
Wilson had overseen the resegregation of federal government offices, including the Treasury Department. In a meeting in the Oval Office with the civil rights leader Monroe Trotter, Woodrow Wilson said, “Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen,” according to a transcript of the meeting
Monmouth University in New Jersey said last week that it would remove Wilson’s name from its marquee building after administrators, professors and students said that the former president held abhorrent views on race and reinstituted segregation in the federal work force.
The decision contrasted with a vote by Princeton trustees in 2016 to keep Wilson’s name on campus buildings and programs, despite student protests that led to a review of his legacy there.
Read more: Officer charged with Floyd murder makes first court appearance
Outlining the university’s decision on Saturday to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name, Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement that “Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time”.
He said that the board of trustees had concluded that “Wilson’s racist views and policies make him an inappropriate namesake” for the university’s public policy school. A residential college will also lose Wilson’s name.
The name of the school will be changed to the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Mr Eisgruber said Princeton had honoured President Woodrow Wilson “not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism”.
Read more: US senator tweets against Floyd protests; suggests bringing in military
“That, however, is ultimately the problem,” he added. “Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against black people.”
The depth of feeling that followed the death of George Floyd has led to renewed demands for an end to institutional racism. In the US and other countries statues of controversial historical figures have either been pulled down or taken down.
Princeton to also expedite renaming of residential community
Princeton had already planned to retire the former president’s name from Wilson College, a residential community of about 1,000 students that includes dormitories, dining facilities and extracurricular programming. But rather than asking students “to identify with the name of a racist president for the next two years,” Princeton will “accelerate” the retiring of the name, Mr. Eisgruber said.
Read more: Floyd death will not be in vain: Civil Rights leader
The community will be renamed First College, acknowledging its history as one of the first residential colleges at Princeton, AnneMarie Luijendijk, head of the college and a professor of religion, said in a note to students.
Professor Luijendijk said she “always found it hard” to ask students to “cheer for Wilson” during intramural sporting events. The renaming is an important step, she said, adding that students often struggled with the “constant reminder” of Wilson’s actions.
Undoing racist undertones – other institutions are following suit
Earlier this month, Monmouth University in New Jersey removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from one of its most prominent buildings.
In a separate development on Saturday, the lower house of the Mississippi state congress passed a resolution that could remove the Confederate emblem – now viewed by many as a racist symbol – from the state flag.
Read more: UN chief says countries should make reparations for slavery and colonialism
Mississippi’s Republican Governor Tate Reeves tweeted that he would sign a bill to change the current flag if the legislation was approved, saying arguments over the 1894 emblem had become as divisive as the flag itself. The measure now moves to a Senate committee before going to the chamber.
However, US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order calling for protesters who target monuments to be imprisoned. The measure says anyone who damages a public statue must be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law”.