Black Justice League: Keeping Woodrow Wilson’s name continues legacy of ‘white supremacy’

The group that ignited the debate over Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University said it is disappointed that its demands were not met. In a statement released yesterday: “Princeton remains unable to even reckon and wrestle with its white supremacist foundations and its ongoing role in perpetuating racism, instead delivering shallow words and hollow promises.”
The Black Justice League (BJL) staged a protest in November inside the president’s office at Princeton and called on the school to drop Wilson’s name from a dormitory, remove a mural of him, and rename the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
woodrow wilsonThe BJL said that while disappointed, its members are not surprised that the Princeton Board of Trustees stands by Wilson, who served as Princeton University’s president from 1902-1910.  “Princeton continues to demonstrate its seemingly intractable investment in white supremacy and its vestiges,” the BJL’s statement said. “Princeton’s decision today (Monday) demonstrates unambiguously its commitment to symbols and legacies of anti-Blackness in the name of “history” and “tradition” at the expense of the needs of and in direct contravention with the daily experiences of Black students at Princeton.”
         Read the Princeton University Legacy Review Committee reportThe BJL also said that since the November protest Princeton has not addressed its other demands; that the school add cultural competency training for faculty and staff, create a black cultural space and add class requirements focused on diversity.The BJL said that Princeton University “lags behind” its peer institutions like Harvard, which changed the Harvard Law School shield shortly after a committee recommended its removal. The shield was derived from a slave-owning family, according to The Harvard Crimson.The protest organizers are opposed to the way Princeton honors Wilson because of his racist policies. Wilson, who went on to serve as President of the United States (1913-1921), hosted a screening at the White House of “The Birth of a Nation,” a racist film featuring the Ku Klux Klan. The Black Justice League also said that as school president he continued the defacto policy that kept the student body largely white.Support for Princeton’s decisionNot all students were disappointed by Monday’s decision to keep Woodrow Wilson’s name. Members of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), which published an open letter to President Eisgruber opposing the BJL’s stance on Wilson, said it applauds the school’s decision.”I’m glad that the University chose to keep Wilson’s name on the public policy school and the residential college,” Princeton sophomore and POCC member Joshua Freeman, who is African-American, said. “I understand that Wilson’s history is nowhere near perfect, but very few if any historical leaders have perfect ideologies according to today’s moral standards. Keeping his name allows us to continue to look at his legacy and learn from it for many years to come.”The University launched a special exhibit on Wilson’s legacy, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” to address the President’s mixed legacy. It can be seen in Robertson Hall, the home of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.”Many people argue that he was mainstream in his time,” Dean of the Wilson school Cecilia Rouse said in a video advertising the exhibit. “We have examples here where we see that actually in his own time people were quite critical of some of the positions that he took.”However, Rouse noted that Wilson also instituted a number of progressive reforms as President of Princeton and of the United States. These include establishing the 14-point program for world peace and ratifying the 19th amendment to give women the right to vote.New motto announcedThe University launched a special trustee committee to re-assess Wilson’s legacy and to gather input from the Princeton community following the BJL’s occupation of President Eisgruber’s office. “The trustee committee’s report emphasizes, and I agree wholeheartedly, that our most significant and enduring challenges pertain to enhancing the diversity and inclusivity of our community,” Princeton University President Eisgruber said in an email addressed to community members. The full Board of Trustees has also adopted all of the report’s recommendations.Chaired by Board member Brent Henry, the committee also called for Princeton to change its motto: “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of all nations” to “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” The report said the revised motto is more inclusive, and should be updated on a new campus plaque contextualizing Wilson’s legacy.A Princeton alumnus from the class of 1949, Dr. Harvey Rothberg said he was very pleased by the committee’s decision. Dr. Rothberg attended the public discussion on Wilson last month, and said he suggested a plaque to committee members.”The alumni as a whole will breathe a sigh of relief,” Dr. Rothberg said, adding that he favored the idea of acknowledging both Wilson’s flaws and his accomplishments.Although he was slightly surprised by the idea of changing the school’s motto, Dr. Rothberg said the decision made sense upon further reflection.”Our wishes to serve other peoples should not be confined to the political entities of different countries or nations,” Dr. Rothberg said. He also appreciated the committee’s idea to encourage more diversity in its candidates for further education so that faculty members will be more diverse in the future.BJL members declined to provide individual statements on the University’s decision. However, BJL member Destiny Crockett posted on Twitter that she “[does] not come from a people of quitters.”

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