- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 10 February 2016
- Written by BENJAMMIN SMITH | STAFF WRITER AND BRENDAN GREVE | POLITICS EDITOR
When analyzing the morality encapsulating the particular actions of past influencers, should the context of the era in which they exist be considered? Or are some forms of thought so outdated that they can no longer be reconciled with a modern generation?
An ongoing series of conversations “on race and inclusion” hosted by Monmouth University aims to answer these questions and more.
While not explicit in their purpose, these conversations will be used to gauge student interest in changing the name of Wilson Hall, named for President Woodrow Wilson, who rented the original Shadow Lawn Mansion and gave speeches from the front balconies during the election of 1912.
Although Wilson was Governor of New Jersey at the time, he was born in Virginia, and later became the first President from a secessionist state in almost fifty years and the first since the end of the Reconstruction Era.
With the memory of the Civil War still prominent in American society, racial inequality was an unfortunate commonality of Wilson’s administrations. Despite the passing of the Pendleton Act in 1883, which stipulates that government jobs are to be awarded on the basis of merit and made it illegal to fire or demote an employee for political reasons, President Wilson mandated that all applicants for federal jobs be photographed before they were hired.
Under his supervision, many African American civil servants who were in positions of managerial supremacy to their white colleagues were demoted to, according to Wilson, “reduce the social friction building up in American society.”
Notwithstanding their discriminatory nature, the policies, he said, were “as far as possible from being a movement against the Negroes,” and he “sincerely believe[s] it to be in their interest.”
While president of Princeton University, Wilson “envisioned an intellectual utopia, a community of the mind,” according to Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg. But Princeton was then the “only major college in the North” that did not admit students of color.
When a black student from Virginia wrote directly to Wilson himself, he replied that “it is altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton.”
Berg also reveals that Wilson even opposed President Teddy Roosevelt’s appointment of a black Collector of the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, as “an unwise piece of bravado” because a black man with authority over white merchants was “too much … to stand”
Wilson was clearly a bigot if only, as he so claims, for purely political reasons. But if that is the case, why should Monmouth, or any institution of higher learning for that matter, choose to name an academic building after someone who was so close minded as to promote segregation fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, assuming it would be in the best interest of everyone?
This begs another obvious question. Who should replace Wilson as namesake of the Shadow Lawn Mansion?
If the only contribution that Wilson has to the University is in a few speeches that he gave one summer, perhaps the building could be renamed for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who once addressed a crowd of students on our campus in 1966.
Or maybe the mansion should be renamed for Julian Abele, the first African-American professional architect, who helped designed it in the neoclassical French tradition along with Horace Trumbauer.
To learn more about the Wilsonian legacy, a panel discussion featuring distinct faculty members entitled Woodrow Wilson: Legacy, Memory, and Achievement, will be held on Wednesday, February 17, from 1:15p.m – 2:35 p.m. in the aptly named Woodrow Wilson Auditorium.
The program will provide “important background and context” as the University explores “whether or not Wilson’s name is still appropriate” to feature on its signature building.
The University’s Wilson Hall is a big part of the history of this campus, which makes many students want to come here. Woodrow Wilson was the only governor of N.J. to ever become President of the U.S. His summer home, or “Summer White House”, is the big beautiful building that we call Wilson Hall. Whether you like or dislike the former governor and president, Wilson Hall is a major part of American history right here on the campus.
Woodrow Wilson had a very progressive agenda that included supporting women’s right to vote, helping labor unions, and created the Federal Reserve, making loans more accessible to Americans, and finally he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1918 for his peace efforts to end World War I.
He sounds like a liberals dream, but one caveat is that he is believed to be a racist with a spotty civil rights record by his critics. Although it is a bit unfair to single out Wilson as the lone bigot in America in the early 1900’s, he was sympathetic towards segregation but he also believed it was for the good of African Americans at the time.
He also offered W.E.B. DuBois, an African American civil rights leader at the time who campaigned for Wilson, an army commission to deal with race relations. That by itself does not change many of his racist views but this was at a time where the Ku Klux Klan was at its height.
He was actually fairly moderate compared to the rest of the Democratic Party at the time– which was the party of the segregated south and much different than the party that is seen today– and the rest of the country which was at one of its lowest points in race relations in modern history.
Because of that, the liberal progressive takeover of academia is showing in full force with their politically correct strategy, “It doesn’t go along with our agenda and we don’t like it, so let’s change the name and pretend it never happened.”
I am not writing this article in defense of bigotry nor am I writing on behalf of Woodrow Wilson. As a conservative, I do not believe in many of Wilson’s policies because they went along with the progressive ideas of government expansion into the lives of the American people.
I write this article because I do not agree with the idea of erasing history as a way of confronting bigotry. It is simply a historical fact that Woodrow Wilson used the mansion as his summer home. It is also a fact that George Washington owned slaves. Should we take his face off of the dollar bill and tell the next generation that he wasn’t the general who won the Revolutionary War and first President of the United States? That would be the same logic that our University administrators would be following if they were to rename Wilson Hall.
Although some of our nation’s history might be unpleasant for some, erasing it does not put us in a better position. There is much better ways that this campus can show acceptance and tolerance towards people of different colors than by taking away the history of the building that draws many of our diverse student body to come here in the first place.
The uncomfortable truth for some is that Wilson Hall was the summer home of Woodrow Wilson. Renaming the mansion can’t change that. It is uncomfortable that he, along with many other Americans, had negative views towards people of color. Renaming the mansion will not change that either.
So instead of renaming the mansion, which will not change anything, why can’t we as a university focus on the positive strides that Monmouth University has made towards inclusion. Just last year there was a black lives matter rally right in front of Wilson Hall. The name of the mansion did not seem to have a negative effect on that.
Our University celebrates “World Hijab Day”, promoting tolerance of our friends from the Middle East despite the ongoing threat of Islamic terrorism by ISIS. The name of Wilson Hall did not seem to stop the students from showing tolerance there. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. once addressed Monmouth University students about civil rights in 1966. He addressed them right in front of Wilson Hall.
Even better, as a University we could look towards making a more inclusive future instead of looking towards the past. Instead of renaming the mansion to make us “feel good”, how about the school administrators that are so passionate about equal rights just lower tuition for students. That way, students of all colors can afford to attend this beautiful university and we would have more of a diverse student body than we do now. However, the fat cat administrators and bureaucrats that lead unnecessary and wasteful programs that our tuition dollars go to, will have to take pay cuts and lose their fancy titles.
Instead of taking the easy way out, Monmouth can just continue its racial progress and look to a more diverse future. At the same time, we can keep our history too and not promote intolerance by banishing things that we feel uncomfortable with. It makes little sense to fight intolerance with intolerance. I have never heard of someone getting positive recognition for erasing history. Monmouth students should embrace history– the good and the bad– and make even bigger strides for a better future.
IMAGE TAKEN FROM WIKEPEDIA.ORG