Hearing of the decision to remove Wilson’s name from the Wilson School, I looked again at the 2015-16 review of the issue. I noted that background information was sought from nine experts, six White and three African American scholars. What struck me was the difference between the views of the African American academicians, whose position I thought should be prioritized, and the views of the White academicians. The three African American scholars all pointed out how malignant and excessive, even for the era, was Wilson’s racism. Five of the six White scholars, in one way or another, took a position similar to that of Professor Kendrick Clements: “Against a full understanding of Wilson’s racism (however that is defined), Princeton needs to weigh the whole of his public career….” I would paraphrase that as, “We ought to keep the name on the School; his heinous racism doesn’t matter that much because his accomplishments outweigh it.”
Sadly, Princeton, by retaining Wilson’s name in 2016, sided with that view. The University should have seen then, but fortunately recognizes now, how painful it would be for African American students to study at a School named for a person who, whatever his achievements, treated people like themselves as less than human and substantially injured them by his actions, such as taking the lead in kicking people of color out of Federal jobs. White people like myself who are undergraduate alumni of the School were forced to be complicit in that stand.