It’s a time of reckoning for Woodrow Wilson at Monmouth University.
The campus is in the throes of a kind of introspection now spreading across the nation, considering whether the former president’s name should be stricken from the iconic Wilson Hall. Some call it a “necessary” conversation while others regard it as “political correctness” run amok.
The mansion bears the touches of the 20th century’s greatest artists, but some here worry that Wilson’s racist legacy — he was a white supremacist who erased even the modest gains made by blacks of his era — is a stain that detracts from the building’s beauty and the school’s aim of inclusion.
The former president and New Jersey governor joins a growing list of departed luminaries — and enduring symbols as well — facing fresh scrutiny for forgotten or overlooked history, much of it tied to the nation’s earliest struggles over race.
Even where the status quo has been preserved — Yale announced Wednesday it would continue to honor slavery champion and 19th century U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun — the inquiries have changed the way leading figures, flags, monuments, buildings — even the money in people’s pockets — are understood.
“The national dialog that’s going on on our campuses about race and about inclusion is very important,” said Monmouth University President Paul R. Brown, who has been holding local campus discussions on the topics since 2015.
Campus officials formed a committee to gather input using surveys of staff, students and alumni about the possibility of changing the name of Wilson Hall. So far, Brown said, there is no consensus in the illuminating conversation.
Wilson’s ties to the school are tenuous. The 87-year-old mansion honors Wilson because, among other reasons, he once campaigned on the grounds, but this was long before Monmouth University, then Monmouth College, acquired the site in 1956.
Wilson’s legacy includes spearheading the creation of the Federal Reserve and the League of Nations after World War I, the forerunner to the United Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1919, for his effort to preserve peace after the slaughter of World War I.
The first Southerner to be elected president since 1848, Wilson also re-instituted segregation by race in workplaces, bathrooms, cafeterias and other federal government offices — at a time when blacks had previously found job opportunities there.
Source: USA Today | Amanda Oglesby, @OglesbyAPP