The school’s Board of Trustees agreed on Friday to take Wilson’s name down and in a letter noted that the decision has been “made more urgent” by the killings of George Floyd and others which have sparked global protests.
The letter explained, “[W]e have taken this extraordinary step because we believe that Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combating the scourge of racism in all its forms”.
The public policy school will now be called Princeton School of Public and International Affairs while the Woodrow Wilson College will now be called First College.
But Princeton said its alumni award will continue to bear the name of Wilson because it was instituted with a gift accompanied by “legal obligation to name the prize for Wilson.”
The former president was both a student and a professor at Princeton.
Woodrow Wilson’s “racist thinking and policies”
Wilson, a Democrat, is best remembered for sanctioning a 1915 White House showing of The Birth of A Nation, the racist groundbreaking film. Wilson is said to have compared the film to “writing history with lightning”.
The film’s portrayal of black people, especially men, as savages, mindless beings who ravage white women was potent even as late as the 1970s. The Ku Klux Klan used the film to make whites anxious about their supposed vulnerability leading to recruitment to the Klan.
The former president was also a fierce segregationist whose term saw thorough segregation of blacks and whites in government departments and federal services. Wilson argued that segregation removed “friction” between black and white people.