A lot has been written recently — especially addressed to a Princeton audience — about Woodrow Wilson 1879 and his racism. Just about every aspect of the subject has been covered, but without much of the factual information it deserves. Here are some pertinent facts: During Wilson’s time as a leader, the United States — as a whole — was a racist society. In fact, it was not until the 1960s — long after Wilson was gone — that the United States, thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. and others — began to address not only racism, but all the other “isms” that characterized its society for its first two centuries. Much of American society until the middle of the 20th century was not just anti-black, but anti- almost any society or religious group except white Protestant.
My own class at Princeton (’51) — according to the Nassau Herald for 1951 — was 65 percent Protestant, 8 percent Catholic, and a bit over 3 percent Jewish. Most cities had segregated ethnic neighborhoods — not just black, but also Jewish, Asian American, Italian, you name it. Many still do. American society matured as a segregated one, and to blame individuals such as Wilson because of his minor part in the process is inaccurate.
I’m not saying we should support Woodrow Wilson the politician because of this, but we should recognize how he truly fits into an American society that was flawed in many ways that had nothing to do with his attitude toward black Americans.