Woodrow Wilson was even worse than you think

I was taught as a boy that Woodrow Wilson was a great President, tragically struck down before he could finish his life’s work. Later, I learned he was bad. But I had no idea how bad.

Historian Colin Woodard at Talking Points Memo:

Son of the Confederacy’s leading cleric, apologist for the Klan, friend of the country’s most prominent racist demagogues, and architect and defender of an apartheid international racial order, the amazing thing is that Wilson’s name was ever associated with idealism or respectable statesmanship. In fact, delving deeply into his life to write “Union” — a book on the battle over whether the United States was to be defined by adherence to “natural rights” ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence, or to Anglo-Saxon bloodlines — I came away wondering how any institution would have wanted to be associated with his name at all, even in the 1920s or 1940s.

Wilson wrote a five volume American history

calling freed slaves “dupes” and the KKK a group formed “for the mere pleasure of association [and] private amusement” whose members accidentally discovered they could create “comic fear” in the Blacks they descended on. Immigrants were a problem because they were no longer “of the sturdy stocks of the North of Europe” but contained “multitudes of men of the lowest classes from the South of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland” and Chinese people, “with their yellow skin and strange, debasing habits of life,” who seemed “hardly fellow men at all, but evil spirits” and who provoked understandable mass killings by white mobs….

It’s said that the South lost the war, but won the peace, but it was Wilson’s presidency that sealed the victory. Wilson presided over the segregation of the federal government, with Black civil servants directed to use only certain bathrooms and to eat their lunches there too so as to not sully the cafeterias. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, makeshift partitions were erected in offices so white clerks would not have to see their Black counterparts. Dozens of prominent African-American officials were replaced with whites, which came as a shock to many African American leaders who’d supported Wilson because he’d promised to treat Blacks “fairly.” When the (white) head of the NAACP, erstwhile Wilson ally Oswald Garrison Villard, begged the president to reverse course, Wilson told him it was all being done “in the interest of the negroes.” The president famously ejected Black civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter from the Oval Office for having temerity to tell him that his delegation came to him not as “wards” but as “full-fledged American citizens” demanding equality of citizenship.

Wilson has been praised for his vision of the League of Nations, but it was a white supremacist vision of a world that excluded Africans, Arabs, Indians and Pacific Islanders as full citizens.

Also, Wilson refused to meet with “a 29-year-old Vietnamese man seeking self-determination for his French-ruled people, who would later take matters into his own hand under his nom de guerre, Ho Chi Minh.” So yeah the Vietnam war? That’s on Wilson.

Woodrow Wilson was even worse than you think

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner