If Woodrow Wilson Buildings are Racist, NJ’s a Pretty Racist State
Princeton University is not the only place in New Jersey with a potential Woodrow Wilson "problem."
A two-day occupation of Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber's office by members of the Black Justice League ended with the school considering two of their demands: removing the name of the 28th U.S president from the School of Public and International Affairs and a mural from the Wilcox Hall dining room. The school will also consider requests for black cultural housing.
The BJL believes Wilson, a former president of Princeton University, has a racist legacy. Wilson allowed his cabinet to re-segregate federal government departments. Wilson also forced civil servant applicants to include photographs, considered by African Americans at the time as a move to weed them out.
But where there's been a flurry of recent activity at Princeton around the protests, much of the rest of the state's been quiet in regard to the Virginia native who started his political career in New Jersey after attending Princeton.
Monmouth University has a Wilson Hall named in honor of the home Wilson used as his Summer White House during his administration on its Long Branch campus. The mansion was originally owned by Joseph B. Greenhut, the head of New York department store Siegel, Cooper Co. It was destroyed by fire in 1927 and rebuilt.
Monmouth University history and anthropology professor Richard Veit said the structure is a centerpiece of the campus and is considered by some to be the "Downton Abbey" of the Jersey Shore.
Wilson was a "complicated figure" according to Veit, who is happy that the Princeton controversy is triggering discussions about Wilson's legacy.
"He was not particularly great on issues like race or new immigrants in the early 20th century," said Veit. However, Veit says he had significant accomplishments such as transforming Princeton into a "world class institution" during his time as university president. As governor of New Jersey, Veit said, Wilson proved to be "incorruptible" and passed legislation cleaning up government and the voting process. "He's really an individual with some deep contradictions."
The building was renovated in the 1980s and became part of the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark. It also served as Daddy Warbucks mansion in the 1982 movie "Annie."
Monmouth spokeswoman Tara Peters said there have not been any protests against the name in the wake of the Princeton protest.
The Wilson building at Monmouth isn't the only one. There's a Woodow Wilson High School in Camden. There are Woodrow Wilson Middle Schools in Clifton and Edison. There are Woodrow Wilson Elementary Schools in New Brunswick, Garfield, Weehawken and Neptune City. Messages left for the superintendents of schools in Camden, New Brunswick and Edison went unreturned.
At the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, where the Turnpike's service areas are named after prominent New Jerseyans, spokesman Thomas Feeney said in an email that no complaints have been made recently about the name of the Woodrow Wilson service area on the northbound New Jersey Turnpike in Hamilton.