Skip to main content

tv   The Presidency Woodrow Wilson in an Age of Racial Reckoning  CSPAN  November 8, 2021 11:50am-1:14pm EST

11:50 am
c-span. c-span now. download today. our weekly series "the presidency" highlights the politics, policies, and
11:51 am
( this series -- will make wilson and his period more central to that practice in national and global affairs n. a critical and crucial ways, highlight wilson to offer lessons for contemporary or enduring problems of public and international life. for this episode we wanted to look beyond academic work this the narrow sense of articles and moneya grams and look at the work of public scholars. to commemorate means remember
11:52 am
together, how should we selectively remember a path that has left so many different legacies for many different people. more to the point today, how should we remember a figure like woodrow wilson whose figure is -- and publicly contested. can we find a way to explore and discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly in our past when we don't always agree even on the meaning of those terms? and must we try? these are questions that hit home. -- part of a wilson centeresque way to remember wilson in a way that's north self serving for -- but -- involving the greatest number of americans who today are trying to build a better, richer, fairer commonwealth than the one they inherited. later you will hear from me about complimentary efforts, including one to reimagine the center's permanent on wilson's life and legacy, and another to
11:53 am
celebrate the life and leggy of wilson critics. first, i want to welcome two guests who not coincidentally have been struggling with the same struggles and questions we have here and have offered to share their perspective. robin -- president of the woodrow wilson presidential library -- just as the museum was preparing to open. she maintains the relationship and eventually became coo and director of finance before assuming overall leadership of the organization. in the meantime, robin earned a masters in public administration from james madison university through his dean of stewards at stewart hall high school and
11:54 am
worked in administration at mary baldwin and james madison. while overseeing the wilson library and museum, robin also served on the virginia association of museum's governing counsel as well as on the advisory board of visitors for mary wald within university. she lives in stanton with her family. welcome, robin. >> thank you. >> elizabeth -- -- thank you very much. elizabeth aa. karcher is the executive director of the president woodrow wilson house on f street in washington, d.c. a site owned and managed by the national historic trust for preservation that maintains the house in a perfectly preserved setting as well as an intimate look at his life and legacy. prior, elizabeth worked at discovery incorporated, a local media company and enjoyed many rolls in the women's club of
11:55 am
schiffy chase -- elizabeth received her bachelor of arts in international affairs from the american university of paris, france, before earning a master of arts in international relations from rutgers university. her interest in international affairs extends far beyond wilson's legacy in that arena. currently she's an adviser for the shanta organization. elizabeth lives in washington with her husband. welcome, elizabeth. and welcome, too, to our viewers from across the united states and many other places. we are grateful to have you with us and eager to include you. after our two guests speak, i will respond with some questions and observations of my own and then begin gleaning comments and questions from the chat which i urge you to fill. i ask only that you maintain a tone of inquiry and a attitude of curiosity taking care not to
11:56 am
foreclose others' questions or contributions. let's get started. robin, could i ask you to talk a little bit about your work at the woodrow wilson presidential museum and library inston ton, virginia? >> sure. good afternoon, and hello from stanton, virginia. it is a pleasure to be with you as we discuss this very important topic row wilson's legacy. it's a topic that we discuss regularly amongst our board and staff and alongside our visitors as we learn together. our goal at woodrow wilson presidential library is to tell the story of woodrow wilson from birth to death in an honest and objective fashion. we are as comfortable sharing the positive and the negative. woodrow wilson presidential library, which is located at ginsburg place -- has evolved
11:57 am
over the years from its original incorporation as what has been known as the woodrow wilson birth place foundation. our mission is to promote an understanding of the complexity of the life and times of woodrow wilson, his influence on the world, his relevancy today and for the future. this mission is a very different one than the original mission of the organization when it first opened in 1938, that mission stated that the goal of the organization was to purchase, preserve and maintain the birth place to the end that the said property might be forever set apart as a national shrine dedicated to the ideals and purposes for which woodrow wilson lived and died that men of every nation and of all time -- as i noted, the woodrow
11:58 am
wilson presidential library was incorporated in 1938 at the i had with row wilson birth place. it was officially dedicated in 1941 by president franklin roosevelt as, quote a new shrine of freedom. original trustees of the organization came from national prominence and included such individuals as united states senators, members of wilson's cabinet, and university professors, among others. the first president the organization was mrs. francis wood poll. she was a stanton native and the wife of then united states secretary of state cordel poll. although not a board member the biggest cheerleader and behind the scenes mover and shaker was none other than wilson's widow. the woodrow wilson presidential library evolved over these years from its original purpose and after years of acquiring
11:59 am
adjacent properties here, the foundation opened the woodrow wilson museum which features exhibits highlighting his life in 1990 and opened the library and research center in 2008. we will remain the presidential library in 2004. it is an educational institution dedicated to the study of wilson's life and the times in which he lived from precivil war 1856 to post world war i, 1924. many of the issues that we grapple with today as a country, things such as the role of central government, impolice station, women's issues, race relations, taxes, america's role in the world -- these are all prominent concerns during wilson's time. and the woodrow wilson presidential library provides the background to study these subjects. during our 83 year history in
12:00 pm
institution has educated millions about the 28th president and the era in which he lived. to explain just a little more about who we are, our campus includes the president buytarian man, president wilson was born in 1856. our museum holds seven permanent galleries, including an interactive world war i trench exhibit and [ indiscernible ] we talk about his birth and childhood in the south, his educational pursuits, his political life as governor of new jersey and president of the united states. but we have a contemporary gallery where we compare with
12:01 pm
contemporary society looking at relevance for today. for example, our recent exhibit protecting the president. topics such as suffrage and civil rights issues. it shows how we really haven't gone as far as we think we have as a society. our team here is committed to creating learning opportunities that emphasize history's significance in today's world. our traditional k-12 educational program survived -- outreach programs to schools. we work closely with the virginia department of education to ensure that programs meet the needs of teachers and students of all age. additionally we have trivia, lectures, panel discussions, guest speakers a wide variety of topics that we cover as a regular part of our ongoing program for adults. i think it's important to state, we know and understand woodrow wilson is neither fondly
12:02 pm
remembered or well understood by many americans. and the reality is that president wilson is a polarizing historical figure, butter with committed to discussing his whole story. while we celebrate the domestic legislation that wilson signed into law in the new direction he chartered in foreign policy during world war i that shaped the policy of the united states throughout the 20th century and beyond. we also detail hisser howible views on race and segregation and its lasting impact on the progress of social justice. as we look forward to the 215th anniversary of the founding of our country we believe we must examine the challenges that keep us from that ideal human quality. it is our vision to -- and how both he influenced and was influenced by these. thank you. >> thank you very much, robin. i appreciate that.
12:03 pm
elizabeth, will you please tell us about your work as the f street house as i was socialized to call it. >> i like that, the f street house. we actually call it -- the name is the woodrow wilson house. it changed names about 12 years ago to the president woodrow wilson house ask. the wilson house, as we call it among ourselves, the wilson house, was also originally described as a shrine to woodrow wilson. the house itself was built by a famous architect, washington, d.c. architect, waddy butler wood in 1915. and he moved into it in 1921 on inauguration day. many call it the house on f street. it is in calarama. when edith and wilson went on to live there another three years,
12:04 pm
he died in 1924 in this house, edith wilson went on to live in this house another 37 years. in fact, having lived in the house close to 40 years, she really did -- she put a stamp on what the house would be. and she bequeathed it to the national trust for historic preservation upon her death in 1961. and it was opened to the public in 1963 and became really an initial -- officially a historic house and museum in 1965. her letters of bequeathment refer to it as being a shrine to woodrow wilson. we struggle with that because we are not really a shrine any longer. we talk about it as being a place where we can talk freely about his legacy and the legacy that he's left. legacy i think is a much richer word. you can -- it describes both things that are positive and negative, the consequences, and
12:05 pm
the results of some of the legislation and the parts of his administration that today we are realizes what that legacy is actually leaving, the consequences of that legacy. the house is authentic in that we have over 8,400 pieces of artifacts in the collection. as you can see behind me, the library is really untouched from the day that edith had turned it over to the national trust. very interestingly for me, i just came across a photograph of the house that was put into architectural digest in 1921 when the wilsons moved and in fact architectural digest captured and it looks very much like it did then. the wilson house is set up similar to the library, and presidential library museum in that we do tours, we have
12:06 pm
visitors come to do different types of chores. those chores have changed since 1965, and in today's world, what we focus on is wilson's legacy as president, and his presidential years, but other things as well. we talk about the full story of the people who lived in this house, who worked in this house. we look at the architecture of the house and what it meant, the style of architecture from the time. we do a tour called upstairs, downstairs, where we describe the life of edith wilson in one day, and then the people who work in the house around her to support the lifestyle in this house. and this is subtle nuances if you find a historic house like this, that really describe what the upstairs, downstairs means. we have been advised by an advisory council which we have grown in the last 2 1/2 years since i have started at the wilson house, and that's been
12:07 pm
very rewarding. my advisory council are members from all over the world, actually, and some of them are very big, still fans of wilson and the era and others are very critical, and we need that balance to help us steer our direction and our purpose. our mission as part of the national trust for historic preservation is to preserve and store the house, the collections, the landscape, and its full dynamic history, and use it to provide forward thinking and inclusive discussions, programs and community activities that are relevant to today's social context. we really look to have debates, dialogue, discourse about what in many ways, what happened a hundred years ago and how those things resonate today, whether it's talking about issues that wilson himself faced, women's issues, racial issues, and of course international conflict.
12:08 pm
so these are topics we try to bring to life for our tours and for our guests. we were talking a little bit earlier. we have a staff and a number of guys, and we have scholars who come and join us. three times a year we've got a scholars program, and we find that the scholars are the next generation, and they bring so much life and energy and new ideas to a way we can interpret the house and tell the stories. we try to -- we love to be engaged in conversations like this when we can hear what people have to say and what they think about how we should be remembering a president with the consequential legacy of woodrow wilson. thank you for including me. i'm happy to be here today. >> thank you very much, elizabeth, and thanks again, robin. i'm going to talk a little bit
12:09 pm
about the more nascent, although very much in process efforts of the wilson center to redo a permanent exhibition on wilson's life and legacy, and then when i'm done, perhaps we can turn to questions about maybe some more specific questions about some of the efforts that each of you make to highlight the complexities, and how you engage with your visitors, both virtual and in person. but first i want to get a little update on our own efforts here at the wilson center. as i said earlier, the wilson center was chartered by congress in 1968 as the official memorial to president woodrow wilson, and as such, we have a responsibility to present a public exhibition to educate contemporary audiences about wilson's career, policies and his legacy.
12:10 pm
in line with the wilson are center's chartered role as an international affairs think tank, our current exhibition focuses on a more peaceful, global community. it does not represent his views, even on those topics, his presidency and legacy in their full complexity, and we were aware of that before events of the past several years, and we are even more painfully aware of that today. as the nation's key nonpartisan policy forum, the wilson center tackles difficult global issues every day through independent research and open dialogue. the point of our, i guess, exhibit revamp is to draw on this to reimagine the exhibition in a way in which it acknowledged leadership on a national and global scale, and also addresses his more troubling legacies, especially with regard to race, but in other areas as well.
12:11 pm
first, let me just review the exhibition goals as we identify them over the last several months. in reimagining the exhibition, the wilson center seeks first to re-examine the legacy based on current scholarship. it's a long time since the exhibition was put into place. second to reflect multiple points of view, including criticism of president wilson. third to perform a forum for opening dialogue about president wilson and his legacy. we also want to create a more welcoming and inclusive and visitor friendly experience, establish a flexible, multipurpose space for film and public programs and events, ways that we can support work at the wilson center and by other partners in exploring relevant topics in american history and relating them to our current concerns. we want to increase the visibility of the wilson center. we want to expand visitation and program attendance.
12:12 pm
finally, we want to create connections between the exhibition and the rest of the wilson center's work, and encourage visitors to explore connections between president wilson's era and contemporary public life. i want to make just a few comments on three or four of these goals with which i personally have been most engaged. the first or the first two are the related goals of reflecting multiple points of view, and providing a forum for open dialogue about wilson and his legacy. he was perhaps the most elegant of all presidents in articulating democracy with deliberation at its core, an ideal he calls prominent council. the everyone learns most and the best decisions are made through prophesies, including the widest scope of experiences, interests, and opinions, and bringing them all into genuine conversation with another one. now, obviously wilson did not always practice his ideal
12:13 pm
perfectly, and indeed in several instances, especially when issues of grace are involved, he seems to forget or ignore us entirely. my personal assessment of the record is that he actually practiced it far more consistently than most people in authority, and maybe most human beings practice their own most cherished ideas. indeed, in his day, before a slew of mid-20th century books, mostly seeking to explain the u.s. senate's failure to ratify the versailles treaty. wilson was praised by his princeton and washington acquaintances for his solicitation of and careful attention to criticism. one duty i think the wilson center has is to resist the current trend to confine wilson entirely to the devil. for one thing, too much of what is published in the media and increasingly in scholarly circles is factually incorrect. wilson never promoted the cause
12:14 pm
of the confederacy, he celebrated the defeat of the south and the end of slavery. he never praised the kkk. he denounced it in the harshest term. he never endorsed birth of a nation but asked major theaters not to show it. examples can be multiplied. it is not to excuse wilson for the terrible things he did do and the consequential and damaging legacy not just for race relations but for actual living black americans, both in his day and in our en, it's just to say that i think in today's day and age, it is critical that an organization like the wilson center insist on the importance of facts. if we no longer believe in facts on the importance of evidence that can be and has been examined intersubjectively. there's plenty to criticize wilson for without assuming things based on his southern
12:15 pm
birth or making things up. that to me only invites a damaging backlash. second point, i think making wilson into a caricature or alien monster that no way is dangerous to the cause of racial justice. the fact is wilson i don't think was that different from many folks today. he did not sit around thinking about how to prevent black americans from obtaining justice and achieving equality. he basically did not care at all about black americans. when he did think about them, he preferred to think that his tendency to say the right things about democracy or his over all support of progressive or radical policies was enough to absolve him of making uncomfortable personal sacrifices or political sacrifices, sacrifices of pride, sacrifices of moral comfort and
12:16 pm
moral authority. these are not dangers unique to a century ago. but that's not really my most important point. my main point is i think it is essential that an institution chartered by congress to promote wilson's best ideals do just that, promote ideals, and do much better job than he did himself. i can't think of a time when it was more important to foster courageous, but tolerant and constructive sharing of stories and experiences of hopes and fears, of assessments and ideas across the differences and it is today when our formal systems of political decision making seem less and less equipped to foster that collective learning and public work. the second set of goals i want to address briefly is that of creating connections between the exhibition and the larger work of the wilson center and encouraging visitors to seek connections between wilson's era and contemporary public life.
12:17 pm
the wilson is involved in an incredible range of constructive work to improve human life and foster thriving free communities across the globe. in the vast majority of cases from what i can tell, it does that work in a way that translates wilson's ideal of common council into practice better than he did. various teams and working groups do not dream up solutions to other people's problems and simply dispense or dispose them. they work in collaboration with governments, nonprofits, voluntary organizations, educational institutions, and activists all over the globe to co-create solutions and leverage the talent, wisdom and work of people actually living the conditions that concern them. i think visitors should know about this work, and take hope from it. it's done by a public institution, and done in their name. that said, wilson often thought he and his government were doing the same thing of deeply democratic work.
12:18 pm
as study of the record and soon our exhibits would make clear, however he often was not. one reason, therefore to present wilson not as a demon or a monster or a failure or a hypocrite, but as a complex person dealing with enormous challenges and trying, at least some of the time, to do the right thing, is to spur people to ask themselves, what is this place doing. what is this organization, a public institution, doing that i should support and learn from and what might his blind spot be. what about other organizations that act in my name, the name of the u.s. government, a government of we the people in ways that i don't know much about, what constructive, even if uncomfortable questions could i ask of the people who run knows places. and that brings me to my final point about the exhibit which is the connection to contemporary public life. for all of my concerns about some of the contemporary
12:19 pm
literature on wilson, and his troubling legacy is undeniable that legacy is troubling. if our center and our exhibition in any way appears to be sweeping any of those legacies under the rug, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and the american people. we need to make it clear we as an organization confront these complexities, and welcome the opinions and the reactions and the suggestions and the creative constructive ideas and solutions of people outside of our think tank, outside of our organization, outside of our familiar sphere of experts. and i really hope and i believe that the team we have working on the revamp of the wilson exhibition is doing its best to do that, and i look forward to the results and i look forward to people's reactions to it when
12:20 pm
it is finally unveiled. before i open it up for questions. i just want to make one more mention of another area in which the wilson center is trying to take this new approach of its commemoration of wilson. mark green has asked that the wilson center launch a new award and the details of this are still in formulation, but an award honoring a very very prominent critic of wilson, along very much the same lines that he is criticized told, namely william monroe trotter, the prominent african-american civil rights activist, boston based editor of the boston guardian. also known, not just for his contra attempts with wilson in 1914 but for a lifetime of
12:21 pm
unbelievably constructive work to advance the rights of african americans as well as to advance the rights and living conditions and political freedoms of people of color all across the world. i ask that everyone keep their attention open to announcements about what for now i'll call the william monroe trotter award, and i'm as eager to see exactly how that shapes up. thank you very much. i know there's been some already, how shall i say, animated discussion in the chat, and i'm eager to get to some of those questions. maybe first i could ask a
12:22 pm
question that is a little bit -- a little bit more directed toward the work of our two guests. i wonder if i could put each of you on the spot to give a really concrete example for an experience with a particular set of visitors or a really tough problem that you recall working through with your staff on how to fortune kate and talk about wilson's legacy in a concrete term and the kind of work you're trying to do. can we start with you? >> absolutely. the first thing that popped into my mind, looking at some of the exhibit labels that are in our museums, one of the things that we did after the murder of george floyd, like other museums, put out a statement of
12:23 pm
support for our black community and for us as well, we also spend a lot of our time doing training so that we are becoming more aware of diversity points and seeing where those blind spots might be, and one of the areas as we looked at exhibit labels, and we realized how we were framing something in a way that really wasn't as -- i don't want to say it wasn't accurate but it wasn't a full more objective view. and so what we purposely did is we changed that exhibit label, but we left the old one up, and made it so you could see where change that, why we felt that was important to change that, that we were becoming more
12:24 pm
inclusive in our thoughts, and sharing those viewpoints. i think one of the things we deal with constantly is being museum professionals is we have to continue to be objective, and so often there's so much emotion about these very topics, and you have to balance that emotional piece of that with the objective piece of what our job is. that's just one example that came up. >> we at the woodrow wilson house, put through -- i should start by saying we have funding through the african-american cultural heritage action fund that is part of the national trust for historic preservation and so with that many of the stories that we're looking to tell are to have a much fuller story. and to bring african-american
12:25 pm
stories to life in the woodrow wilson family. the scots had been the family living there for over 15 years. we had a speaker series last spring. it started on suffrage to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment, and that speaker series, it was on zoom, it was extraordinarily successful for the woodrow wilson house in that we switched from being in person to now online. and online we had sometimes over 100 people tuning in, which was really great. we never would have been able to have 100 people at the wilson house for those kinds of talks. and then of course with the murder last summer of george floyd, we changed the topic to wilson and race, and were direct and deliberate about having professor eric yellen spoke, and have historians to bring to light to tell the story and
12:26 pm
explain what do we mean by racism? what does this mean? one of the things we found is that a lot of people, they were surprised. i didn't learn that, why didn't i know that. it was in some ways the story that we would hear from people who would attend the speaker series on suffrage, and say, gosh, i didn't know that, i had a fairly decent education. why didn't i know that about suffrage or about wilson and race or about his administration. i agree with the exhibitions. i love the idea of having the plaque explain what we used to say and say today, the wilson house will be a museum celebrating 60 years in the exhibition, and how we've changed as an exhibition space and a museum over 60 years, and
12:27 pm
tell that story, which i think is actually fascinating, to say how did we portray ourselves in 1962, 1965 and how did we do that today. a very very concrete story that just happened recently was with young girl scouts who came, and the new program that we're trying to explore at the wilson house is to have young girl scouts come, and i was there and helped facilitate this conversation, and they said to me, how can this person be a racist. what do you mean he was a racist, and what do you mean by, like what was good about him. if he's so bad, because he was a racist, and i said to these young ladies, you know, if you take the metro here today. they said yes. i did, did you watch tv and hear things that happened in the
12:28 pm
world that make you think, wow, america should be waving the flag, and you should be out there helping people and doing things. did you hear about haiti a few weeks ago. do you hear china. do you think america should be involved. yes, america should be waving their flags. when you took the metro today, did you see homeless people on the street walking to the woodrow wilson house? yes, we did. i said, did you say anything to them? did you help them? did you give them any money? no. and that really struck them to say, yes, we all, it's really american to our core that we feel we should be helping and feeling like we should be having this influence on a vision of world peace, and yet sometimes we'll walk over the people who are right outside our front door. right outside the metro in washington, d.c., and that's an extraordinarily concrete vision that those girl scouts came away with thinking, they don't need to just learn about wilson and a vision of world peace, they need
12:29 pm
to learn about what's happening in their own backyard. >> very very arresting story, yes, thank you very much. related a little bit to what you've just mentioned, elizabeth, that people coming in and saying, why didn't i know this, or i don't know exactly know what people are talking about when they say he -- wilson did this or didn't do this. we had a question asking us to summarize wilson's attitudes and actions on race rather than just refer to them or talk around them. i'm not sure -- well, first of all, i will refer people to our previous installment of this series. wilson then and now, which was on wilson and the politics of race. i don't know that really either of us are equipped to do that in the time we have, but maybe what i could try to address that question by asking each of you
12:30 pm
to explain the major events in wilson's career or the major statements that he made for publication that you have found people most concerned that you addressed head on. and then talk about how you addressed those. that would be a way at least to give people an idea of some of the actions, some of the statements that unfortunately i don't think we can summarize wilson the entire concept or subject of wilson, and race today. but that might be a way to get it added in a concrete way. robin, do you mind if, again, i turn to you, what's the main thing about wilson and race that you just knew you had to confront because people were asking you to confront it. >> sure. the first thing that really comes to mind is about the
12:31 pm
viewing of -- in the white house, and i know there has been a quote that has been attributed to wilson, and about that very filming that there's no evidence whatsoever that he utters the word. it was like writing history with whitening, but it's his association with that filming or the viewing of that film, which incidentally was directed by a classmate in school, that is a huge question that we get asked about on a regular basis. >> one of the questions we get is because we are in washington, d.c., there is a high school, the woodrow wilson high school. it's a public school. it's not northwest quadrant of washington, d.c., not too far from the wilson house on f street. they have been struggling with
12:32 pm
the name change, and should they retain the name of the woodrow wilson high school. i think there's a chance it might be -- the talk is it would be changed to august wilson high school, which frankly, the commentary is that that's a bit of a cop out to be changing it to august wilson, but nonetheless, that is the discussion, and one of the questions we get is, and i wouldn't say -- the questions we get is why -- why are they changing the name of the woodrow wilson high school, and what are you going to do at the wilson house, and when there's this -- takes place in washington among this neighborhood, it talks about how that neighborhood had been an african-american community, and that because of the segregation of the federal government, that community itself, right where the woodrow wilson high school is located was affected because now that's not an african-american community. that's one of the questions that
12:33 pm
we get is give us a concrete idea of what exactly are you talking about when you say segregation, and what are the consequences, and we talk about the wilson school in the northwest. >> thank you very much. i will. i have a comment in the chat asking to talk about the segregation of the federal government under wilson. this is probably the example of wilson's racism that comes up most for me in my circles at least, and certainly as one of the major topics for us here at the wilson center. for obvious reasons. we're here in washington, d.c., and we're specifically commemorating his presidency. the -- when wilson took office, he had two cabinet members in particular, william gibbs mcadieu, and others that were
12:34 pm
supportive of it too who wanted to segregation their departments and in mind the more systemic federal bureaucracy generally. mcadieu was secretary of the pressury, and burleson was postmaster general, and they knew about wilson's very public commitments to several delegations of black civil rights leaders, when he received the nomination for the presidency from the democratic party, as well as to some prominent white supporters of black civil rights such as garrison millard to quote do justice to the negro, and to not, you know, reduce the number of federal appointments for instance that had sort of traditionally been participant of the patronage machine under the republicans who had been in
12:35 pm
control for most of the past couple of generations of the white house. and so burleson and mcado sort of fed wilson the story that both black and white employees in their offices were just super uncomfortable together and that segregation was the way to go, and they talked to all the prominent pastors in d.c., and they all supported this, and obviously mind reading is that for wilson to have so easily swallowed this line of reasoning is a sign of his racism. the idea that african americans would turn to segregation as a way to overcome, you know, even if they have their discomforts of their own is -- it just shows an utter lack of empathy, intellectual empathy at least
12:36 pm
for people in the position of these black federal workers. and it became a huge public issue for wilson. for one thing, he had a new democratic congress, and he depended upon the vote of a lot of southern democrats who were much more conservative than he was and were to push through a lot of his domestic economic legislation to support working people, to make -- credit more available to farmers, and small business people, what eventually became the federal reserve to better regulate the trust, to revise the tariff schedules so that they worked not just to enrich large corporations but, you know, at the expense of consumers.
12:37 pm
and so he found it very very difficult, i think, to backtrack, a, because he really was not all that concerned and found that because of his racism, found it easy to believe that this would be best for both sides. also because politically, he really worried about alienating many of these southern democrats. he also at the same time was getting all sorts of public criticism for appointing black americans to federal positions, especially in a couple of instances where he put his name forward for african-american people to actually supervise white employees. so that is the story as i understand it. often the story is told, i think, as, well, in two ways. it wasn't wilson's fault, it was
12:38 pm
just his cabinet members, and he was too busy doing other things, which is not true. they're his cabinet members. he's in charge of the executive branch, he bears responsibility. or the story is wilson came into office bound and determined to enforce segregation and thereby revitalize or invigorate segregation in american society as a whole. that's also just not true as far as i read the record, and so i think it's a -- and another version of that story is that the federal government had long been being desegregated by republicans, and that truth doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny. taft was also segregating, or i'm sorry, people in the taft administration were also segregating federal offices.
12:39 pm
that same policy continued under wilson's successors after he left, his republican successors after he left office, and there had long been a very concerted sort of southern strategies among the republican, the gop, to support local and state wide efforts to suppress the african-american vote in the south, and support segregationist policies as a way to try to make end roads into the solid south democratic vote to try to win the southerners over to the republican party. i think this is an example, and there are many many others of just the sheer complexity of one single issue in this history of wilson's racial thinking and
12:40 pm
policies. and the summary i gave is not meant to absolve wilson of any guilt. it's just an effort to tell what i have read and studied over many years, to tell the most accurate story about it that i can, and a story that hopefully will prompt us to think about the lessons that we can learn that really apply to our current day and age, rather than open us up to very simple conclusions like that's just revisionist history, and you're just trying to take a hatchet to woodrow wilson, or, oh, yeah, well, everyone knows that wilson was the most hideous racist ever to occupy the white house, other than the 12 slave owners that occupy that position. so i hope that was useful to people. more than one comment asking for someone to kind of review that
12:41 pm
particular episode in wilson's career. okay. i am going to turn to -- i'm going to try to kind of mold several comments and questions into larger comments and questions. a lot of commentary on was wilson a hypocrite, and i guess from the perspective of someone trying to put together a museum exhibition on his life and legacy, what is the value in asking that question or is there a different question that we can ask, so elizabeth, do you want to go first this time? >> sure. one of the -- when i came to the wilson house, my very first idea on an exhibition was on flawed leaders and to look at woodrow wilson, and his flaws and as robin said, warts and all, wilson, warts, and all, but compare him to and look at other
12:42 pm
world leaders, not even have to be world leaders. it can just be american leader that are flawed leaders and, what are those flaws. it's remarkable, you look at a number of them, their flaw, serious character flaw is on race. race or on views of otherness, people who are different, whether it's a woman or -- and i thought that would be a great exhibition. it would be a great way to address wilson's flaws. and one of the other ideas that we have percolating for an exhibition is on fake news propaganda, and first amendment rights and how that has changed over the last hundred years, and goes into that dichotomy, how do you justify this very fine line of when it's propaganda versuses
12:43 pm
a first amendment right. those are the things we're thinking of at the wilson a first amendment right. those are the things we're a first amendment right. those are the things we're thinking of at the wilson house. >> robin, you want to take on the hypocrite and/or other question? >> i'll start by saying, i think it was 2015 when the talk at princeton university, what do we do with wilson, and i had a colleague who's no longer associated with another presidential library call me and say good luck with this, i don't envy you, and i just said, you know, be careful, your time is coming, and i'm not going to say which one it was, and that time has come, and i think it is something that we can look at all of our presidents and see, you know, i think so often we want to glorify all of our leaders and see only them at
12:44 pm
their best ideals, but to me, when we look and study a human being, whether they're president of the united states or a mayor of a small city, it doesn't matter that we're looking at a person, their positives but also their flaws and what makes them, and what can we learn from them is the most important thing to me. i think it's so often easy for us to sit in our glass houses and throw those rocks. and we need to maybe be reflecting within, and that's where i want to see us go as our organization. we're actually in the middle of a planning stage to redo our movement anyway, it's past time, and we want to expand that, and that is some of the things that we want to look at is what can we take from not just woodrow wilson or any historical figure, and reflect on that for that relevancy, how does that change me and what can i learn from
12:45 pm
this. i will say, it was before my time here, it was a wonderful -- this was 2006 symposium, dr. tom knox put together on behalf of the woodrow wilson presidential library and was exploring wilson, lincoln, and jefferson and race, and you can actually purchase a book from the university of virginia on the essays that were given, and it was such a -- it's so fascinating to read those, and to be able to see even in 2006 a conversation that we were having. interestingly enough, there wasn't as much interest in there as there would be today. it's something that we definitely strive to really put forth those very conversations. >> i'm glad you mentioned that book, robin. all of the essays in there are brilliant, and i can say that because i didn't contribute to it. one that i will particularly
12:46 pm
mention to people on this episode here is by the late manning marigold who wrote probably the best overview of wilson and race that i've ever seen in a short, maybe 20 page article. manning marigold, a very prominent african-american biographer. one of the best critical examinations of wilson's record on race that i have read. i think still probably the best certainly in that small space. we had a couple of comments just from the chat in responding to this idea of otherness as sort of a human -- sort of a universal human pitfall and how it is interesting that wilson not only pointed the first jewish supreme court justice,
12:47 pm
and took a lot of political heat for t lewis brandice, and appointed the first jewish faculty and catholic faculty, as they were almost as hostile to those two types of people as african-americans but was not to go so far as to get behind and support the application of black students to princeton. his excuse is, you know, this is a place where it's kind of a finishing school for southern white gentlemen, and you're probably not going to like it here. could have said the same thing to a jewish and catholic faculty member and chose not to. why is that? why is that racial otherness or that particular type of racial otherness pose such a greater barrier than some others? another question that i have tried to kind of glean and build into a bigger meat ball of a
12:48 pm
question, i guess is what wilson's domestic legacy valuable enough to commemorate despite all of these other sins, you know, what is it that after your careful study that you and your staff and your advisories internal, external, official, unofficial, have found really remains worth, let's say, commemorating, as at least potentially very valuable and inspiring. and at the very least, extraordinarily consequential in terms of the american political development or international affairs. and maybe we can start with whoever wants to answer first. >> i can start. i have a -- we just recently redesigned our web page. our web page was kind of limping along for a number of years
12:49 pm
, and it was one of my goals to get it out there. and we talked about, what do ph.d.s do when they're not professors, sometimes they help and redesign a web site, and come do the research for us. this particular student really thought in terms of the name change with wilson, she goes why don't you just become the museum of progressivism, and i thought i don't know how popular that's going to be. i like it a lot, but i think we need to keep it as the woodrow wilson house, but i bring that up because that's something that we look to -- i mean, we can explain a lot and the evolution of progressives, if you look at a progressive today, would woodrow wilson recognize that as a progressive, if you take that time and evolution of what progressive meant, that's one of the things that we're focusing on that we think is fascinating,
12:50 pm
so we enjoy that and that's something, a discussion that we engage in, and that brings back to a core of wilson's policies and his identity as well as something that we as a museum can explore. >> on mute here for a second. you know, one of the things and i will tell you how i was involved in this. when i first started here, i will be really honest, i thought a lot of looking at wilson's domestic agenda is boring, it seemed dry. how doo you really get someone interested and y involved in wh wass happening? when at the same time i had groomed and evolved to say, wow, this is really what woodrow wilson. when you look atd w domestic achievement, there are only two other presidents that were put in that same category and that is franklin roosevelt and then
12:51 pm
also johnson. and when we look at his whole concept with thet new freedoms, some with us today. so looking at how we can educate on those pennants of wilson's domestic reforms is something that is really a great challenge for us. one of the things that we're doing isgs looking at what we cl every day and looking at people who lived during wilson's time and how their lives may have been changed due to some aspect of legislation that was passed. somp looking at the eight-hour work day. how does that impact a railroad worker which was the largest employer during that time. that brings that, i hope that helps people when they come through and they're trying to understand what is the
12:52 pm
significance? whyof is it so consequential wh is the w big deal of an eight-hr work day? what was life like before that. we kind of joke about that.ha but i do think it's such an important piece that i have really come to feel the importance of sharing that information even more. of looking at wilson and all he was able to accomplish. and for whatever faults might be there or flaws, we haven't come up with w anything better. we talk about and we're still dealing with itt 100 years late becausese nothing has been ableo pass, to change that legislation. >>le and i will say in some way ties back into the discussion on race. we had some, our speaker series
12:53 pm
we had people who were part of the diplomatic community or from the state department and one of those african-americans. one of theaf things they pointe out is that we can talk about woodrow wilson and that he was a racist, but we had an opportunity to change that over the last 100 years and there hasn't really been that much change. so,n to just identify wilson as the i turning point, we can do that, but we should also then bd pointing our finger all along the line of saying why didn't change, we had an opportunity here to change it. it'sy really in many ways until 1965 that they're saying there's a change. but even todayay if you were to ask people who were part of the state department and they're african-american, you can see just on theefr color of the department, there is still
12:54 pm
somewhat institutional racism in some communities within the united states government. >> yeah, thank you. i want to tie both of your comments to some previous comments you both made about your particular organization's missions and purposes and, you know, legal requests involved charters involved and the same is true for us. and then there is also the example of woodrow wilson high school in washington, d.c., which is a very prominent woodrow wilsonow scholar who is very near andso dear to this particular institution happened to haveha graduated from. and i'll try not to embarrass john cooper by revealing that to everybody but that is his alma
12:55 pm
mater. i don't think that is a determinance. i think his interest in wilson emerged a lott later. but d.c. born and bread was john cooper. and that is the question of who should decide these questions of naming and commemoration or how do you decide who decides. for instance during the first real powerful round of discussion about renaming the woodrowre wilson, the then woodw wilson schools of affairs one compromise that was put forward was, well, maybe we don't rename the school of international affairs because it was named that wayha to commemorate wilsos constructive legacies in both american political development and also in the growth of international governance institution. but, why wouldn't we rename a
12:56 pm
princeton dorm in which young people have to, you know, spend their most intimate, vulnerable moments sleeping, eating, drinking, living, making friends in a building named after someone that they very understandably might feel represents an ongoing threat to their comfort and safety and security. es in your situation, you know, can youou imagine -- what would be your argument for maintaining the wilson name, both really philosophical. and do you have thoughts on that larger question of sort of how do you decide who gets to decide. again, we can start with whoever would like to go first. a >> i'll go first. we have actually just a few
12:57 pm
years ago had conversations with our board of trustees on is our name adequate for who we are and what we are doing? and for us, our name is there not because we're a shrine to wilson, but it's an educational institution dedicated to the study of life in times of woodrow wilson. and he was a very influential president of thisan united stat. we would be doing a real disservice if wee changed our name to something else.di what would it be? the presidential library or the 28th president who shall not be named. it would put us out of business, basically, if we were to just say,y, okay, we're not going to talk about this person any more. so for us, that was really where we feel very strongly that there is so much to learn. not just from wilson but use the
12:58 pm
example because that's who we are e from this individual and fromom his presidency. and we do want to make sure people don't realize who don't think that we are sort of shrine because that is not who we are. and the kind of person and being in the first gallery of our museum understands that. our goal is to be objective u. as far as we should be responsible for naming and how should that go. i, you know, i just would defer to the board or the governmental organization to make that decision. it is not my place to decide. i had lots of individuals contact me to say, well, aren't you going to do anything and decided to ultimately change the name. but that's not my role. i have enough to worry about here. it's not my role to kind of put myself into the business of what
12:59 pm
university is doing. so, i was deferred to the board of whatever organization is handling that situation. t >> i think it's a great question who should be responsible. it's actually, it's really a great question. we in practical terms when i did do the revision to the website, our website is called, you know, www.woodrowwilson.org and people find us on google and trip adviser and maps. i mean, to go and double back on that and find to change the name, that would be very cumbersome. but in the same token, there are some places that i found that they did change the name to the president woodrow wilson house and you could also find, i
1:00 pm
think, on maybe instagram woodrow wilson house. so it's interesting how that word president got flipped in there some way along the lines. but to change the name, the house on sth street? what would that tell anybody? the house, you know, somebody you had mentioned, oh, change to the edith and woodrow wilson house. i think that is, that's a fascinating subject, you know. should we consider changing it because it's really her house. and i know there is a new move for i think it's a group called flare for the first ladies and do research and really what's the role the first lady has been and that will change as we have women presidents.
1:01 pm
but, you know, r this is really story of woodrow wilson and we would probably not change it to the t edith and woodrow wilson house. but it's a discussion and it's interesting. >> also it goes without saying the edith and woodrow wilson house would not in any way mitigate the problem with race. >> not at all. all.at just compound it. >> just compound that problem, yes, exactly. >> i know that the woodrow wilson home in columbia, south carolina, has done an excellent job. they are now thehe museum becau they're telling a fuller story of what life is like during that. that is an opportunity for a museum to do something like that. to kind ofmu pivot on their mission and i think they're doing wonderful work down there, as well. i do want to highlight.
1:02 pm
but it can be done but i think for us with our mission. >> well, i think the reason i bring up the question is because i think it's one, or least i can imagine woodrow wilson himself the people most affected who decide. w the problem with that is also theo arguments that were used fr home rule in the south and to maintain segregation and all these other, you know, terrible things. so, it's a wickedly complex problem, i think. and perhaps the best thing to do, perhaps the only kind of iron clad rule is make sure we talko about it more and more openlyly rather than less befor making any decision. t i always like to wrap these things up a little bit early just because we live in a zoom
1:03 pm
age andn i think that has led people into the habit of scheduling themselves literally back to back to back. but i wanted to know if either of the two of you wanted to make any closing comments. anything that you wanted to share that you didn't or something that you've learned. whatever you might want to share with the audience. even if it's a particular event or something to add to your organization that you want to draw s people's attention to or new offering on the website. >> sure, of course. i'll start.. we -- there are number of events and activities that we have been trying to foster and change the
1:04 pm
conversation at the h woodrow wilson house. i mentioned some of the tours that we do and our exhibition and last year we had an exhibition in the garden so that wen could bring people in durin covid to have an exhibition safely at the wilson house and we continue to have t exhibitio. i think the exhibition before that was on migration which i don't know if we had an opportunity to bring this up, but one of the topics is about theou arab spring and how the world has changed in 100 years through the arts. so, we do very diverse and very different types of exhibitions that areof constantly tying conversation back to what it was 100 years ago and how decisions that were made then fast forward what are the consequences of those decisions today. we and weo look to have a conversation with people. if there areif things that you
1:05 pm
wanted to bring up to the wilson house, send us an e-mail. send us a text. let us know what you are thinking. come by wilson house on s street and engage us in a conversation in what you'd like to see changed. last week we had a filming about a town , africa town in alabama and it was a curator from smithsonian. and they used the wilson house to film anew interview and it w just the irony that the african-american museum of culture and history would film something at the woodrow wilson house and how important that is today to havefe those kinds of conversations about a slave ship off the coast of alabama and so-called talking about that is wilson house. that's really progress. that's what we want to do,
1:06 pm
that's what we're looking to do and engage new audiences by bringing those a conversations into a house like woodrow wilson house. so, i i share that to say, keep the conversation going. this is, a we're only just at t tip of the iceberg of the types of conversations that we had that are rich and meaningful that could bring in new ideas, new understands and new perspectives. and we welcome that and would like to see that. i thank you. and we are going to be doing a number of events and check out our brand-new web page for the thingsng that we do, including hopefully we'll be having a fund-raiser in the fall and we'll get to see you all at the wilson house then. thank you. >> thank you.se >> specifically about the relevance for today. and that is the key to what we do here, as well.
1:07 pm
and we are so blessed to work with t such great partners suchs elizabeth and the great work she's doing at the wilson house. we want to be a safe place for people too have these uncomfortable conversations. this is how we grow and how we learn. i think it's important that we remain civil, but we have the dialogue and look for an increase in understanding. and as we d work to improve upo our museum experience one thing that we're doing is looking at ways that we can better engage. and one of the things that elizabeth said, we want people to reach out to us. let us know your comments. where a to you think we have ou blind spots on? where are the short comings. and on the things and tell us what you think u we're doing we. i thinkg it's really important that we hear from people.
1:08 pm
i also encourage people to come down and visit us. we're only two and a half hours southwest of d.c. right at the intersection of interstate 81 and interstate 64. just about 40 minutes to the west charlotteville, virginia. we're easy to get to. we want people to come and see. we also have a virtual presence. we wante people to engage with s on our online programming that will beil starting up here in ls month. we'll be taking a short break to do that. another piece that i do want to mention because i think this is key is we fund, it is very important for us not to just wait for our community to come to fus, but that we go to our community. how engaged are we with our community. and before long i know the african-american community here in ourni small city of stanton,t had not reached out to them in
1:09 pm
the wayay that we should and we would say, oh, we're here, com join us. it's an understanding that we need to sometimes go to them and see how we can build trust. i get it. i understand. it's very difficult no matter what our exhibit might be about. sometimes it can be hard walking into a building that has the name of someone who stands for everything you stand against. soso we want to be a partner an move forward with that. having said that, we are also doing archeology here on our site. you know, one of the things that people don't know and into a home that had enslaved individuals and thato is a stor we think needs to be told. we are doing our research and
1:10 pm
trying to find names of who the individuals are and who our research partnering with james madison university and their archeology department. we have found that we have on our site what looks to be quarters that would have helped enslaved individuals well before woodrow wilson's home would have been born. that is aud story we have aer ml obligation too tell. who were these individuals. i am one of those that believe original sin as a country and we need to do all we can to tell a story tthere. that's just one of the things that we're doing here at the woodrow wilson presidential library to tell a more whole story of who we are as a country and where our history is. >> thank you very much. i want to thank elizabeth karcher of the woodrow wilson house in washington, d.c.
1:11 pm
and robin von seldenec in for joining us. and for being as open as they've been about their work and their passions and their ideals and thee challenges that come with that work and those passion and ideals. and i want to thank every one of you who joined us for this episode. i want to point toi you to our website where o you can find previous episodes e of this sers where we address wilson's connection to past and contemporary issues of misinformation and government censorship to lost opportunities for peacemaking in the global arena to the politics of race in wilson's day in our homes and i would like all of you to join us
1:12 pm
for our next installment which is actually devoted to the life of monroe. using a famous encounter or an infamousnt encounter between wilson and trouter in the oval office not just to further explore some of the issues we have been exploring today, but to put trotter himself in center stage and to let people know he was h much more than just someo who got kicked out of wilson's office. t but is someone for whom we can learn l a lot and gain inspiratn in all sorts of other ways, as well. thank you, everybody, o for le joining. please join us again. one final time i want to thank elizabeth and robin for a great conversation. and i wish everybody a wonderful week. washington unfiltered. c-span in your pocket. download c-span now today.
1:13 pm
our weekly series highlights politics and legacies of u.s. presidents and first ladies. up next, christopher leahy talks about john tyler, the first vice president to succeed a president who died in office and who was ejected from his own political party. >> hello, again, everyone. welcome to another at-home edition of our better lecture series at the virginia museum of history and culture. so glad you could join us today. as always, we like to start by thanking our members who made this program possible. your support is essential to making these events happen. so we deeply appreciate that. on to today's

5 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on