An open letter to President Eisgruber:
Your message announcing the decision of the Board of Trustees and the administration just arrived (June 27). I am profoundly offended by this decision and the lack of fortitude demonstrated by the current University administration. I always believed that Princeton had more courage than to follow the herds of apologists for a national tragedy that occurred so long ago. It is one thing to acknowledge the dark side of American history. It is another thing to revise it and erase the names of the people who made that history.
The decision to erase Woodrow Wilson’s name from the school of public policy is also the height of hypocrisy. Will Princeton also dissociate itself from James Madison, a slave owner? What about Archibald Alexander (Alexander Hall), whose father was a Virginia planter and undoubtedly owned slaves?
Most of all, what about the anti-Semites Princeton has spawned or honored like F. Scott Fitzgerald (see Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby), Breckinridge Long (proponent of the delayed U.S. response to the Holocaust), and, significantly, James Forrestal (virulent opponent of the establishment of the Jewish State after the Holocaust) after whom an entire University campus is named. And then there is Harvey Firestone whose name adorns Princeton’s world famous library. Here is what one author had to say about him and the notorious Jew-hater, Henry Ford:
“Neil Baldwin, author of Henry Ford and the Jews, recalls that Ford, inventor Thomas Edison and tire magnet Harvey Firestone used to go on motor-car expeditions to the hills of Appalachia and New England. Around their campfires, berating the Jews was a frequent practice. It was, as well, when pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh and Ford became buddies.”
President Eisgruber, you yourself are Jewish halachically and by choice. Should Princeton also dissociate itself from these prominent but misguided men? As a former president of Princeton’s Hillel Foundation (1972-74), I might have standing to make such a request. In my day it was enough that Princeton dropped its numerus clausus for Jews especially from the Northeast. Still, I would not dare make such a request to revise the history of my alma mater by striking the names of these gentlemen and many more who I have not mentioned, as you and the Board of Trustees have done to Woodrow Wilson.
Let it be known that I am an active Republican and no great admirer of some of President Wilson’s policies let alone his despicable segregationist views, but as you mentioned he transformed Princeton and shaped the future of our nation and the world. He appointed the first Jew, Louis Brandeis, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, were it not for the Allied victory in World War I, for which Wilson is largely responsible, the State of Israel where I have made my home for the last 34 years would likely never have been born.
The stain of slavery is forever imprinted on the American experience. As a nation, we were able to put an end to this horrible institution through civil war and through our constitutional institutions. We must, of course, acknowledge the evil of slavery and work to obliterate its deleterious aftermath. As a nation, we have done a commendable job, although the work is not yet complete. Having said this, it is not necessary to purge the names and monuments to men like Woodrow Wilson and the anti-Semites mentioned above from our memory and from the memory of our progeny. To the contrary, when our children ask who Woodrow Wilson and these others were, we must remember to tell them the whole story: their achievements and their failures. That is what I would have expected of a great university like Princeton.