Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.”
The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday.
It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US.
Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton might be the most high-profile act to date. The policy school will now be known as The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Wilson was president of Princeton from 1902 to 1910 and, as a Democrat, served as governor of New Jersey before winning the 1912 presidential election. Born in Virginia in 1856, he spent his early years in the south, including in Georgia and South Carolina.
“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential, even by the standards of his own time,” Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber said in the statement.
“He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice,” Eisgruber added. “He not only acquiesced in, but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.”
Princeton established its School of Public and International Affairs in 1930, in the spirit of Wilson’s interest in preparing students for leadership. It was named in honor of Wilson in 1948, according to the Princeton Web site.
Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” speech to Congress in 1918 laid down a statement of principles for peace later used to end World War I. He was known for his role in the Paris Peace Conference, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended war between Germany and the Allied Powers, and establishment of the post-war League of Nations.
During his first term in office, Wilson oversaw the creation of the modern US central bank, signing the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.
As one of the US’ oldest universities, Princeton has a fraught history with race and gender. It admitted its first black undergraduates in 1945, decades after other Ivy League schools. It did not accept women as undergrads until 1969 — and even then, did so over opposition from some alumni.
The university had discussed removing Wilson’s name before, following student protests at the New Jersey school in November 2015. At the time, a committee that studied Wilson’s legacy at Princeton decided to retain the name.
Student activists renewed their effort to call for removal of Wilson’s name in recent weeks, as BLM protests took on a global scale, sparking changes across corporations, governments, the sports world and beyond. Two groups of students at the school last week submitted demands for anti-racist action to administrators.
“This question has been made more urgent by the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, which have served as tragic reminders of the ongoing need for all of us to stand against racism and for equality and justice,” the trustees said. “Our commitment to those values must be clear and unequivocal.”
Protest organizers said changing the name was only “one small part” of their demands, and urged more “transformative change” at the school.
In other developments, one person was killed and another wounded in a shooting at a BLM rally in Kentucky, police said.
The incident on Saturday took place at Jefferson Square Park in the center of Louisville, where protestors have gathered for weeks over the killing of Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician who was shot in March after police barged into her apartment, alleging that drug dealers had used the apartment to receive packages.
Video on social media showed a man opening fire into the park as people ran for cover.
Louisville Metro Police Department said officers were called to the park at about 9pm.
It was unclear if there was more than one shooter and authorities had yet to release any details of the victims.
Additional reporting by AFP
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