Planet Princeton

Exhibit at Princeton University Explores Contested Legacy of Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow WilsonThe contested legacy of Woodrow Wilson is the focus of a new exhibition at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Opening April 4, the show, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” documents both the positive and negative aspects of Wilson’s tenure as the 13th president of Princeton University and the 28th president of the United States.

The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 28, will be located in the Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall. An online version of the exhibit will also be available starting April 4. Exhibit hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wilson is consistently ranked as one of the country’s great presidents because of his successful domestic legislative agenda in his first term and international achievements in his second. At Princeton, buildings, departments and programs bear his name, honoring his contributions to both the institution and the nation.

But Wilson was also a racist. A southern-born president, he lamented the period of reconstruction that followed the Civil War.  “Self-preservation (forced whites) to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes,” he wrote. He excused the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, calling it understandable in view of the “lawless” situation that victimized whites in the South after 1865.  He also discouraged black from applying to the university, refused to confirm the hiring of blacks in his administration as governor, and segregated the civil service as president of the United States.

Last November, a student group at Princeton demanded that Wilson’s name be removed from school buildings. The group held a sit in for about 36 hours until the president of the university agreed to various demands and promised that the school would discuss Wilson’s legacy.

The school’s exhibition on Woodrow Wilson draws on modern scholarship and Princeton’s special collections and includes correspondence, writings, photographs, newspapers and other documents that place Wilson in historical context.

Sponsors include the University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library and the University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

To complement the exhibit, the Woodrow Wilson School will host a panel discussion at 4:30 p.m. on April 8 focused on Wilson’s legacy on race. The forum will be held in the Dodds Auditorium at Robertson Hall.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    And that is your opinion.

  • bigpoppapump97

    It was only 50 years ago some people in this country were finally given their full rights as citizens. Even if you assume the Presidents since the Civil rights act was signed weren’t/aren’t racist that’s still only 8 Presidents. This country’s history tells a different story, you are confused my friend.

  • Robert Dana

    Great. I know it’s your opinion. You supply no facts to back up a very serious claim.

    Clearly, there is an agreement. It’s not tacit. It’s called the Republican caucus. They agree to do, and not do things, all the time. So do the Democrat and Black caucuses. That’s the nature of caucuses! They agree to things.

    But, as far as being racially motivated, you provide no proof. Rather, the President’s view of where the country should go is markedly different from the conservative view. Folks of all races, ethnic groups and genders take the conservative view. They are not racist or sexist.

    By the way, the executive orders, to which you refer, may, and probably do, exceed Mr. Obama’s Article II powers. The jumping up and down hasn’t worked either. LBJ, Reagan had recalcitrant Congresses but found ways to get consensus.

    Thank goodness we live in a country where people can have opinions.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Yes, Mr Dana, that is my opinion, I don’t think it’s patronizing; I actually think it is quite obvious. Using his power and issue executive orders makes everybody jump up and down; however, when he does that is because he always finds obstacles even when what he wants is only logical. There is a tacit agreement amongst republicans and that is to obstruct anything and everything that Obama wants because they can’t handle a black man giving orders. And you have your right to express your opinion and consider me a simple minded X person, I beg to difer. Thank for your input, though.

  • Robert Dana

    I don’t know how you can say that the opposition to Mr. Obama is due to his skin color — apart from an observation, perhaps, that the opposition disagrees with many of his actions and policies (the predicate for many of which were based on half truths.) But disagreement does not mean racism. That’s illogical and simple minded.

    Frankly, if Democratic Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen were candid, I bet they’d say the President has disrespected them. Henry Clay he is not.

  • Robert Dana

    You have established my point Turner Story. If three historians – including a relative – have demanded that Woodrow Wilson “receive more awareness as one of the top Presidents,” then he has not received such awareness.

    In poll after poll through the years the “great” designation – a term of art used in the historiography of Presidential evaluation – has been reserved for Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson (notably, his first term) and FDR.

    “Near great” – the next level down – I have seen Theodore Roosevelt, Truman and, yes, Wilson on that list. The point is “great” means something; and, by calling Wilson “great”, one is diluting the greatness of the four aforementioned Presidents. I wont sit idly by when the statures of, particularly Mr. Lincoln and General Washington are diluted.

  • I think John Cooper was a relative of Wilson’s for a time. But regardless of what these historians think, we need revisit his legacy.

  • Turner Story

    Well, then you are clearly not well read when it comes to the historiography of Woodrow Wilson. try Reading John M. Cooper, or A. Scott Berg, or H.W Brands. They all demand that Wilson receive more awareness as one of the top Presidents of the U.S.

  • Bradley Sanders

    I say you are a little confused.

  • bigpoppapump97

    I’d say about 75 percent of presidents in this country’s history were racist.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    I think that if we put the good and the bad on a scale, the good weights more. Changing names does not solve issues or erase the past; going forward is what it is important, fight our congressmen and senators who disrespect our president because he is half black (that is the reason), those who oppose the measures that are good for the people and do it because Mr Obama is African American, those should never be re- elected, then, we are making changes. And this is my opinion.

  • Bradley Sanders

    Lots of trash going to college now.

  • Robert Dana

    “Wilson is consistently ranked as one of the country’s great presidents…” Really? I have never read where Wilson was ranked as “great” by historians let alone “consistently.”

    You may want to use your new fact checking thing-a-ma-jig on that one.

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