Woodrow Wilson Name Removed from Two NJ School Buildings
Monmouth University will remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from the building he once used as his "summer White House," and Camden will change the name of its Wilson high school after 90 years.
The views of the 34th governor of New Jersey 26th president of the United States — who oversaw the re-segregation federal offices, and who once screened a film portraying Ku Klux Klan members as heroes in the White House — have been highlighted by some demonstrators at protests after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Protests in 2016 also called for the removal of a mural at Princeton, where he'd been university president, and for his name to be stripped off buildings there and at Monmouth University.
Monmouth University took the occasion of Juneteenth — which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, and with it, the former Confederate states — to announce that Wilson Hall, one of the most prominent buildings on its West Long Branch campus, will be renamed the Great Hall at Shadow Lawn.
"Wilson was a controversial politician, who never actually set foot in the current building. Removing his name, and incorporating these earlier names, connects the centerpiece of our campus more accurately to our historical roots and eliminates a symbolic barrier to the important work of creating a truly welcoming and inclusive space in the Great Hall," university president Dr. Patrick Leahy and Board of Trustees chair Michael Plodwick wrote in a letter to the university community.
The school said it will accelerate its plans to make the hall a "true hub" of the campus with new study tables and gathering spaces and a coffee bar.
The board also voted to take action to honor the contributions of Julian Abele, one of the first professionally trained African American architects, who was the lead designer of the Great Hall.
Monmouth University decided in 2016 to keep the name of Wilson Hall. Wilson used the building as his summer White House while in office. It was destroyed by fire in 1927 and rebuilt.
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."
Camden City school superintendent Katrina McCombs said at Tuesday night's school advisory board meeting she will be "leading the charge with a committee made up of community. students, alumni and administrators as we explore a new name for Woodrow Wilson High School." Video of the meeting is posted on the district Facebook page.
"This is a process that must be done in a collabrative manner and so more information will come out about how that process will occur," McCombs said.
The names of other schools in the district were also reviewed to ensure there was "no history or practices of racism tied to those individuals names," McCombs said.
TAP into Camden was first to report the proposed name change.
Camden last week took down its Christopher Columbus statue, days before a planned protest demanding its removal.
In a written statement, Mayor Frank Moran said there have been requests to remove the "controversial symbol," which he called "long overdue.”
"It's presence has long pained the resident of the community," Moran said.
There is also an online petition to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson and Christopher Columbus middle schools in Clifton.
"Naming the schools by these racists only paints them in a good light, and makes them out to be heroes in a town that celebrates diversity. It’s 2020, and I think Clifton is well overdue for a change and educating their students from a young age of the horrors that some of these “leaders” that were praised," reads the petition.
Clifton School Board member Dana Beltram said during Thursday's meeting while there is "a lot of passion" over the name, attention needs to be focused on how the district will adjust to the ongoing coronavirus and possible reopenings, according to a NorthJersey.com report about the meeting. Superintendent Daniel Robertozzi said keeping the names does not mean their "immoral actions" in the past are not condoned by the community now, according to NorthJersey.com.
Princeton University in 2016 decided to keep the name of its former president on its School of Public and International Affairs and undergraduate Wilson College despite protests to change it.
A committee that considered a name change said in a statement that the university must be "honest and forthcoming about its history" and recognize "Wilson's failings and shortcomings as well as the visions and achievements that led to the naming of the school and the college in the first place."
There's a Woodrow Wilson Middle Schools Edison and Woodrow Wilson Elementary Schools in New Brunswick, Garfield, Weehawken and Neptune City.
A service area on the northbound New Jersey Turnpike in Hamilton also bears Wilson's name.