It is terrific to see many symbols of racism come down in recent weeks. From banning the Confederate flag at NASCAR races to removing the statue of former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith to changing the name of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup, we’re moving in the right direction. At Princeton University, they have rightfully removed the name of Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school.
Now, it’s Fargo’s turn. It’s time to rename Fargo’s Woodrow Wilson High School. I brought this up three years ago, but at that time, the country’s history of racial injustice was not on the radar. Now, it is. Wilson was a despicable racist. Some will argue that Wilson was a product of his times, but that’s not true. Wilson went far beyond the racial attitudes and policies of the 1910s.
African Americans had been working alongside white Americans in federal offices for decades when Wilson became president in 1913. Wilson changed that. He authorized the segregation of many government agencies. African Americans now had to work in screened-off work areas. Some Black employees were put in cages to work. Those Black workers were also no longer allowed to eat in the same lunchrooms as white workers or use the same bathrooms.
Many African Americans were demoted or fired from their jobs. Wilson himself refused to reappoint 12 Black Americans in patronage positions, and fired 15 Black supervisors in the federal service. He replaced them with white people. Federal departments refused to hire African Americans. Black leaders were furious about the changes, and met with Wilson to tell him segregation is humiliating. Wilson responded by saying, “Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit,” and told them to leave.
Beyond that, under Wilson, there were thousands of George Floyds in the U.S. Inspired by Wilson’s policies, white mobs repeatedly attacked African Americans. In 1919 alone, there were more than three dozen race riots across the U.S. Wilson did virtually nothing to stop them. White men randomly beat African Americans and destroyed their businesses. Hundreds of African Americans were lynched, drowned or shot to death.
- Shaw: It's time to rename Woodrow Wilson High School
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The worst incident was in Arkansas, where about 240 African Americans were killed. One of the victims was Leroy Johnston, who was wounded in the World War. Johnston and his three brothers were pulled off a train and shot dead. On top of that, 79 black people there were put on trial for alleged crimes. They were all convicted by all-white juries. The NAACP sent a telegram to Wilson, begging him to make a statement to condemn the mob violence. Wilson said nothing.
It is hypocritical for Fargo to have one high school, Davies, named after a man who ordered integration, and another high school named after a man, Wilson, who authorized segregation. Concerned citizens should take this issue to the Fargo School Board. Fargo school officials have now promised to emphasize racial equality. If they really mean it, they will remove the name of an ugly racist from one of our schools.