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Woodrow Wilson Exhibit at Princeton University Sparks Discussion on the Former President’s Racist Past

Princenton, Woodrow Wilson

A new exhibit at Princeton University about former President Woodrow Wilson has sparked tension on campus because students are questioning his racial past.

The exhibit, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” illustrates several panels highlighting the former president’s life, including his role as president of Princeton from 1902 to 1910, and his years as the country’s 28th president from 1913 until 1921.

“What we were trying to do here is take the line that separates ‘Wilson good’ and ‘Wilson bad’ and expand it,” Daniel Linke, an archivist at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University, and curator of the exhibit told Fox News about the display that has engaged much controversy.

“There’s a nuanced debate to be had,” Linke said. “He’s still affecting us today.”

During the fall, Princeton was challenged to take a defining look into Wilson’s life when a group of students raised questions about the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s racist origins and their impact on his views and policy. Fox News reported that the Black Justice League held a 32-hour sit-in inside the president’s office at Princeton, demanding that Wilson’s name be removed from programs and buildings, along with other modifications to be made on campus to make the university more welcoming to all races and backgrounds. Wilson was known to speak openly about his views on segregation and the need for it to govern the masses. He stated in a famous contemporary quote, “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”

As president, Wilson oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices. According to The Atlantic, in 1914 Wilson threw civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the Oval Office. Trotter led a delegation of Blacks to meet with the president on November 12, 1914 to discuss the surge of segregation in the country. Also, others, like historical Black journalist Ida B. Wells, said of Wilson’s segregation,”[It] has been given a new meaning and impetus under President Wilson, and members of the (Black race) have been snubbed, degraded and humiliated during this administration as never before since freedom.”

Princeton University seniors such as Kristen Coke, who is African-American, explained in an interview with Fox News that it wasn’t until the end of her college matriculation that she discovered Wilson’s racist background.

“There’s lots of things that we do here on campus to exalt his name. When I started critically looking at his legacy, it made me start to think, ‘Who are we celebrating?’ ” she said.

Princeton’s student population is 53 percent female and 12.2 percent male, and of those, 7 percent are classified as African-Americans.

The exhibit will run through October 28. An interactive version is also available online, inviting viewers to post their reactions on Twitter. The exhibit puts Wilson in the context of his era while emphasizing that he was a man apart from it.

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