Friday, November 20, 2015

Just So You Know, Woodrow Wilson Was a Racist

I wrote a paper about Woodrow Wilson in 11th-grade social studies. I don't remember if the sources I used mentioned that he was an extreme racist even for his time.

Check out this Vox story about how Wilson aided the resegregation of federal agencies like the postal service. Workers had been getting along, side by side, for almost 50 years at this point, but suddenly it was necessary to create separate work and break spaces for the black men. Black supervisors were fired, and in Georgia the head of regional IRS office said

"There are no government positions for Negroes in the South. A Negro's place in the corn field." To enable hiring discrimination going forward, in 1914 the federal government began requiring photographs on job applications.
Add these firings and job exclusions to the list of ways black people have been prevented from building financial equity in our country.

See how Wilson set the standard for tone-policing, followed by many to this day:
In 1914, a group of black professionals led by newspaper editor and Harvard alumnus Monroe Trotter met with Wilson to protest the segregation. Wilson informed Trotter, "Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen." When Trotter insisted that "it is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness," Wilson admonished him for his tone: "If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me … Your tone, with its background of passion."
Wilson came from a genteel Southern background and wrote scholarly (!) books that make his sympathy with the Klan obvious. He's even quoted in Birth of a Nation, and showed his approval of the film by screening it at the White House.

Here's what he had to say about black suffrage:
"It was a menace to society itself that the negroes should thus of a sudden be set free and left without tutelage or restraint." He praised those freed slaves who "stayed very quietly by their old masters and gave no trouble" but bemoaned that they were the exception, the being "vagrants, looking for pleasure and gratuitous fortune" who inevitably "turned thieves or importunate beggars. The tasks of ordinary stood untouched; the idlers grew insolent; dangerous nights went anxiously by, for fear of riot and incendiary fire."... In a 1881 article that went unpublished, Wilson defended the South's suppression of black voters, saying that they were being denied the vote not because their skin was dark but because their minds were dark.
Clearly, Wilson was part of the motivated school of thought among historians that painted Reconstruction as a failure of graft and idiocy. Often called the Dunning School, these historians have since been overturned by more careful scholars like Eric Foner. But all of us learned our "truth" in school from Dunning-influenced textbooks, unfortunately, and their influence continues to this day.

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