Activists for racial justice gathered outside a New Jersey elementary school Tuesday demanding the removal of President Woodrow Wilson’s name from the building.
A crowd of around a dozen stood outside Woodrow Wilson Elementary in New Brunswick, protesting in what was the latest in a series of calls to recognize that the president who lead the U.S. in its victory in World War I and won a Nobel Peace Prize was also an ardent segregationist.
Wilson supported re-segregating many federal government offices after he was elected as the 28th president in 1912, and many Black workers lost their jobs during his time in office. Wilson also allowed the screening of "Birth of a Nation," a film glorifying the KKK, inside the White House.
“Was he beneficial for the progress of ‘America?’ Maybe for Blacks he wasn’t. He was a segregationist,” said activist Tormel Pittman. Another member of the crowd, Dupre McCalla, said that the group has no desires to erase the good things Wilson, who also served as New Jersey governor, “but sometimes the bad overshadows the good things that he did.”
This group isn’t the first to call for renaming schools bearing Wilson’s name. Monmouth University announced it will be taking Wilson’s name off a campus building, and a high school in Camden will do the same. Notably, Princeton University has decided to keep Wilson’s name on its public policy school. He served as the university’s president from 1902-1910.
Rutgers Historian David Greenberg says Wilson was both successful president and a racist.
“In enforcing strict segregation in all kinds of federal bureaus, Wilson was really a participant in furthering what we call the Jim Crowe system,” Greenberg said.
Fellow academic Alvin Tillery Jr., of Northwestern University, researched how conventional surveys of presidential greatness have ranked Wilson among the best presidents – while editors of Black-owned newspapers have given him low marks.
“He was a good president in some ways, in general terms. But he was also vehemently racist and he was terrible for race relations,” Tillery said.
As for the possibility of the school being renamed, the New Brunswick superintendent released a statement Tuesday that said “To date, no petition has been submitted to the school district. That said, we always consider ideas that we deem to be in the best interests of the New Brunswick community.”