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tv   The Presidency Woodrow Wilson in an Age of Racial Reckoning  CSPAN  November 8, 2021 5:56pm-7:20pm EST

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more, including cox. >> cox is committed to bridging the digital divide one connected and engaged student at a time. cox, bringing us closer. >> cox, along with these television companies, support c-span2 as a public service. >> our weekly series, the presidency, highlights the politics, legacies of u.s. presidents and first ladies. up next, how should we address woodrow wilson's complicated legacy? that's before the presidential library and the international center for scholars. >> woodrow wilson international center for scholars aims to unite the world of ideas to policies by supporting pre-eminent scholarships and linking that to issues of
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concern in washington. congress established the center in 1968 as the memorial for president wilson. unlike the physical monuments in the nation's capital, it is a living memorial whose work and scholarship commemorates, quote, the ideals and concerns of woodrow wilson. as both a distinguished scholar and national leader, president wilson felt strongly the scholar and policimaker were, quote, engage in a common enterprise. today the center takes seriously his views on the need to bridge the gap between ideas and policy, bringing them into creative context, enriching the work of both and enabling each to learn from the other. this series, wilson then and now, is our effort to make his effort more central to the contact between ideas and policies. we seek to highlight work on wilson and his time that offers explicit or implicit or
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temporary and enduring problems. at this episode, we wanted to look faund academic work in the narrow sense of articles and monographs, and look at the work of public scholars wrestling with the challenges of commemorating our past. to commemorate means to remember together. how should we collectively remember a past that has left so many different legacies for different people. more to the point today, how should we remember a figure like woodrow wilson, whose legacy is inconsistent and contested. can we find a way to explore and discuss the good, bad, and ugly in our past when we don't always agree on the meaning of the terms, and must we try? these are questions that hit home. this very series is part of a wilson center effort to remember wilson in a way that is neither self-serving or celebratory, nor damning, but relevant and useful to the greatest possible number of those americans who today are
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trying to build a better, richer, fairer commonwealth than the one they inherited. later you'll hear from me about complimentary efforts, including one to reimagine the center's permanent exhibit on wilson's life and legacies, and another to celebrate the life and legacies of a prominent wilson critic. first i want to welcome two guests. robin wilson is president and ceo of the woodrow wilson presidential library and museum in stanton virginia. >> she first volunteered as a college student at next door mary baldwin university in 1991, just as the museum was preparing to open. she maintained the relationship and eventually came coo and
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director of finance, assuming overall leadership of the organization. in the meantime, robin earned a masters in public administration from james madison university, served as dean of students at stewart hall high school and worked in student administration at both mary baldwin and james matthew. while overseeing the museum, robin served on the virginia association of museum's governing council. >> she lives in stanton with her family. thank you very much. elizabeth carter is the executive director of the president woodrow wilson house on f street in washington, d.c., owned and managed by the national trust for historic preservation that provides a window into wilson's retirement in a perfectly preserved setting, as well as an intimate
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look at his overall life and legacy. prior to joining the national trust and wilson house, elizabeth worked at discoverly incorporated, and served in many roles with the general federation of women's club and the junior women's club of chevy chase, including serving as club president where she led the transition to a 501(c)(3) organization. she received her bachelor's of arts 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, for instance, she's an adviser to the board of the foundation which supports sustainable community development in myanmar. elizabeth lives in washington with her husband. welcome, elizabeth. welcome, too, to our viewers from across the united states and many other places. we're grateful to have you with us and eager to include you.
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after our two guests speak, i'll respond to some questions and observations of my own and then again gleaning comments and questions from the chat. i ask only that you maintain a tone of inquiry and an attitude of curiosity, taking care not to foreclose others' questions or contributions. let's get started, and, robin, could i ask you to talk a little bit about your work at the woodrow wilson presidential museum and library in stanton, virj? virginia? >> good afternoon and hello from stanton, virginia. it is a pleasure to be with you as we discuss this important topic of woodrow wilson's legacy. it's a topic we discuss regularly amongst our board and staff and alongside our visitors as we learn together. our gold at the woodrow wilson presidential library is to tell the story from birth to death in an honest and objective fashion.
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we are just as comfortable sharing the positives and negatives, or as we often say, we talk about woodrow wilson, warts and all. the library is located at his birth place and as evolved over the years from the original corporation of what had been known as the 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 man
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of every nation might have a fair opportunity to enjoy the fruits of democracy and thus be better enabled for the moral and spiritual development created for them by their creator. the presidential library was incorporated in 1938 as the woodrow 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 of the organization was mrs. frances hull, a stanton knave and then united states secretary of state. although not a board member, the biggest cheerleader and
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behind-the-scenes mover and shaker was wilson's widow. the woodrow wilson presidential library has evolved over the years from its original purpose and after years of acquiring some of the adjacent historic properties here beside the birth place, the foundation opened the woodrow wilson museum with exhibits highlighting wilson's life and public service in 1990. and then entered and opened the library and research center in 2008. we will remain the woodrow wilson presidential library and it is an educational institution dedicated to the studied of willen's life and the time he lived. from pre-civil war to post world war i. many of the issues that we grapple with today as a country, things such as federal government, immigration, women's issues, race relations, taxes, america's role in the world,
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these were all prominent concerns during wilson's time, and the woodrow wilson presidential library provides the historical background to understand these subjects. during your 83 year history, this institution has educated millions of individuals about these issues surrounding the 28th president and the critical era in which he lived. to explain just a little more about who we are, our campus includes the presbyterian, and we provide guided tours that highlight the 19th century life in stanton, virginia. we feature both the wilson family and also talk about the workers who lived and worked in that home when wilson was born there. our museum with seven permanent galleries, including an interactive world war i trenches.
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we talk about his childhood in the south, his educational pursuits, his political life as governor of new jersey and president of the united states. we also have a temporary gallery where we try to explore life as it resonates with contemporary society. for example, our recent exhibit, protesting the president, compared protests from 1920 to today, topics such as suffrage and civil rights issues, and 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 practice decisional k-12 educational programming provides outreach programs to schools and we work closely with the virj vij department of education to ensure programs meet the needs
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of students of all age. we have panel discussions, guest speakers, a wide variety of topics that we cover as a regular part of our ongoing programs for adults. i think it's important to state, we know and understand woodrow wilson was nearly fondly remembered or well understood by many americans, and the reality is that president wilson is a historical figure, but we're committed to discussing his full story. so while we celebrate the domestic legislation that wilson signed into law and the new directions he charted in foreign policy during the first world war that has shape the politics and diplomacy of the united states throughout the 20th century and beyond, we also detail his views on race and segregation and its lasting impact on the progress of social justice. so as we look forward to the 250th anniversary of the founding of our country, we believe that we must examine the challenges from the ideal of
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human quality and it's our fission to focus on those bigger issues of life in america and how he influenced and was influenced by these. thank you. >> elizabeth, will you tell us a little bit about your work at the f street house. >> i like that. we actually call it -- the name is the woodrow wilson house. it had changed names about 12 years ago to the president woodrow wilson house, and 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 in 1915, and
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wilson moved into the house in 1921 on inauguration day. >> when edith wilson -- and wilson went on to live there for another three years. he died, of course, in 1924 in this house. edith wilson went on to live in the house for another 37 years. so, in fact, having lived in the house for 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 official -- officially an historic house and museum in 1965. her letters of bequeathment refer to it as being a shrine to woodrow wilson, and we struggle
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with that because we're not really a shrine any longer. we talk about it as being a place we can talk freely about his legacy and the legacy he's left. and legacy i think is a much richer word. it describes both things that are positive and negative, the consequences and the results of some of the legislation in the parts of the administration that today we're realizing what that legacy is actually meaning, the consequences of that legacy. the house itself is authentic in that we have over 8,400 pieces of artifacts in this 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. interestingly for me, i just came across a photograph of the house that was put into architectural digest in 1921 when the wilsons moved in.
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it looks very much like it did then. the wilson house is set up similarly to the library, presidential library and museum in that we do tours, we have visitors come to do different types of tours. those tours 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, 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 worked around her to support the lifestyle in this house, and the subtle nuances that you find in a historic
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house like this that describe what the upstairs/downstairs means. we're advised by an advisory council, which we have grown in the last two and a half years since i have started at the wilson house and that's been very rewarding, because 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 preservation is to preserve and restore 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,
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dialogue, discourse, about what -- in many ways, what happened 100 years ago and how those things resonate today. whether it's talk about issues that wilson himself faced, women's issues, racial issues, and, of course, international conflict. so these are topics that 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 guides, but we also 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 ways that we can interpret this 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
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remembering a president with the consequential legacy of woodrow wilson. so thank you for including me. i'm happy to be here today. >> thank you very much. i'm going to talk a little bit about the very much in process efforts of the wilson center to redo its permanent exhibition on wilson, the 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
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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. in line with the wilson center's chartered role as an international fares 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 experience to reimagine the
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exhibition in a way that it acknowledges woodrow wilson's leadership on a national and global scale in some areas, yet also addresses his more troubling legacies, especially as regards race, but in other areas as well. 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 wilson's presidency and legacy based on the 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
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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. 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. for all his many faults, wilson was perhaps the most eloquent of all of our presidents in articulating democracy, with deliberation at its core, an ideal he calls prominent council. the everyone learns most and the
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best decisions are made through processes, including the widest scope of experiences, interests, and opinions, and bringing them all into genuine conversation with one another. now, obviously wilson did not always practice his ideal perfectly, and indeed in several important instances, especially when issues of grace are involved, he seemed to forget or ignore it 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 ideals. 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 frequently praised by his princeton and washington acquaintances for his solicitation of and careful attention to criticism. one duty i think the wilson
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center has is to resist the current trend to con sign 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, for instance, never promoted the lost cause of the confederacy. he celebrated the defeat of the south and specifically 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. this is not to es 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 own, 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.
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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 birth or making things up. that to me only invites a damaging backlash. second point, i think making wilson into a caricature or hideous alien monster that in no way resembles him today 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
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about democracy or his overall 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 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 his best ideals and do a much better job of it than he ever 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 decisionmaking seem less and less equipped to foster that collective learning and public work.
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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. the wilson center 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 impose 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
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from it. after all, 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. as study of the record and soon our exhibits, will 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 its 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
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those 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 literature on wilson, and his troubling legacy is undeniable that 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. and everyone who visits the exhibition. we need to make it clear we as an organization confront these types of complexities and can welcome the opinions and reactions and the suggestions and creative constructive ideas and solutions of people outside of our think tank, outside of our organization, outside of our
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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 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 woodrow wilson. our new president and ceo, ambassador 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 prominent critic of wills be, along very much the same lines that he is criticized today, namely william monroe trotter,
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the prominent african-american civil rights activist, editor of the "boston guardian", also known not just for wilson, but for a lifetime of unbelievably constructive work to advance the civil 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, as i hope many of you are, to see exactly how that shapes up. thank you very much. i know there's been some
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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 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 of an experience with a particular set of visitors or a really tough problem that you recall working through with your staff on how to communicate and talk about wilson's complex legacy in just a real concrete term, a little vignette of the kind of work you're trying to do. can we start with you? >> absolutely. the first thing that popped into my mind when you mentioned that, is looking at some of the
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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 support for our black community and there's been soul-searching for us as well. we 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,
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but we left the old one up, and made it so you could see where we had changed that, and we put a description of why we felt it was important to change that, that we were becoming more 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. >> thank you. >> we at the woodrow wilson house -- i should start by saying we have funding through the african-american cultural
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heritage fund that is part of the national trust for historic preservation, and so many of the stories that we're looking to tell are to have a much fuller story. and to bring african-american stories to life in the woodrow wilson family. the scots were the family, the husband and wife that supported the wilsons 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
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floyd, we changed the topic to wilson and race, and were direct and deliberate about having professor eric yellen spoke, and we had historians to bring to light and tell the story and 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
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house will be a museum celebrating 60 years in the coming year, and we're looking to put through an exhibition on how we've changed in exhibition space and as a museum over 60 years, and tell that story, which i think is actually fascinating, to say, how did we portray ourselves in 1963, 1965, and how do 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.
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if he's so bad, because he was a racist. and i said to these young ladies, you know, did you take the metro here today. they said yes. i did, did you watch tv and hear things that happened in the 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, it's really almost 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
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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, they didn't just learn about wilson and world peace, but learning about what's happening in their own back yard. >> very interesting 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.
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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 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 subject of wilson and race today. but that might be a way to get
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it 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 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,
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d.c., there is a high school, the woodrow wilson high school. it's a public school. it's in the northwest quadrant of washington, d.c., not too far from the wilson house on f street. they have been struggling with the name change, and should they change 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 are they changing the name of the woodrow wilson high school, and what are you going to do at the wilson house. and when this takes place in washington, this neighborhood, it talks about how that neighborhood had been an
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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 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 is one of
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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. when wilson took office, he had two cabinet members in particular, william gibbs mcadieu, and others that were supportive of it too who wanted to segregate their departments and in mind the more systemic segregation of the federal bureaucracy generally. mcadieu was secretary of the treasury, 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
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not, you know, reduce the number of federal appointments for instance that had sort of traditionally been part of the patronage machine that had been under the republicans who had been in 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 working together and that segregation was to way to go, and they had talked to all of the prominent pastors in dc and they all supported this. and obviously, mind reading, is that for wilson to have so easily swallowed this line of
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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 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
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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. 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 names forward for african-americans,
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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 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
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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. 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 strategy among the republican, the gop, to support local and statewide efforts to suppress the african-american vote in the south, and support segregationist policies as a way to try to make inroads into the solid south democratic vote to try to win the southerners over to the republican party. i think this is an example, and
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there are many, many others, of just the sheer complexity of one single issue in this history of wilson's racial thinking and 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
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than the 12 slave owners that occupied that position. so i hope that was useful to people. we had more than one comment asking for someone to kind of review that 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
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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 world leaders. not even 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. 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
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rights and how that has changed over the last hundred years, and that, once again, goes into the dichotomy, how do we justify this very fine line of when it's propaganda versus a first amendment right. those are the things we're thinking of at the wilson house. >> thank you. robin, do 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
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one it was, but 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 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 museum, anyway. it's that time and we want to
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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, but for any historical figure, and reflect on that, the relevancy of how does that change me and what can i learn from 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 that as there would be today. it's something that we definitely strive to really put
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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 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 scholar, biography. 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
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this idea of otherness as sort of a human -- sort of a universal human pitfall and how it is interesting that wilson not only appointed the first jewish supreme court justice, 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 then again, was not willing 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?
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why did 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 meatball of a question, i guess, is was 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.
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and maybe we can start with whoever wants to answer first. >> i can start. we just recently redesigned our web page. our web page was kind of limping along for a number of years , 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 redesign a website and come up and 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 that's not really going to -- 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 looked to -- i mean, we can explain a lot, and the evolution of
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progressives. if you look at a progressive today, would woodrow wilson recognize that as a progressive? if you take that compendium of time and evolution, of what progressive meant, that's one of the things that we're focusing on. that, we think, is fascinating, 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. >> i forgot to un-mute for a second. when i first started here, i will be really honest, i thought a lot of looking at wilson's domestic agenda, it's boring, dry. how do you really get someone interested and involved in what was happening? at the same time, i had grown
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and evolved to say, wow, this is really what sets woodrow wilson apart. and when you look at domestic reform and domestic achievements, there are only two other presidents that i will put in that same category, and that is franklin roosevelt, and then, also, johnson. and when we look at his whole concept with the new freedoms, some is still with us today. so looking at how we can educate on those tenets of wilson's domestic reforms, it's something that is really a great challenge for us. one of the things that we're doing is looking at what we call everyday heroes and looking at people who lived during wilson's time and how their lives may have been changed due to some
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aspect of legislation that was passed. so looking at the eight-hour workday. how does that impact a railroad worker which was the largest employer during that time. i hope that that helps people, when they come through and they're trying to understand what is the significance of wilson, why is he consequential? why is it so consequential what is the big deal of an eight-hour work day? what was life like before that. we kind of joke about that. 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. i think it's 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 anything better. we talk about the federal
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reserve, but we're still dealing with it 100 years later because nothing has been able to pass, to change that legislation. >> and i will say in some ways ties back into the discussion on race. our speaker series, we had people who were part of the diplomatic community or from the state department. one of the things they pointed 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, to just identify wilson as the turning point, we can do that, but we should also then be pointing our finger all along the line of saying why didn't it change, we had an opportunity here to change it. it's really in many ways until 1965 that they're saying there's a change.
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but even today if you were to ask people who were part of the state department and they're african-american, you can see just on the color of the department, there is still somewhat institutional racism in some communities within the united states government. ted states government. >> yes and thank you. i want to tie both of your comments to some previous comments you both made about the particular organizations purposes and thereof the quest involved and charters involved in the same is true for us. and also the example woodrow wilson in washington dc which is a very prominent woodrow wilson
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scholar who is near dear to this particular institution which happened to have graduated from. try not to embarrass john cooper by revealing that everybody but that is his moderate. and i don't think sort of any like determinism, i think that the interest mostly emerged a lot later. dc morning bread but or that is a question of who should decide these questions of naming integration, ration of how do you decide who decides differences, is the first real powerful run a discussion about renaming the woodrow wilson then, school of public and international affairs, one from the sort of compromise that was before it was maybe we don't rename the school of international affairs, because it was named that way to
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commemorate the constructive legacy in both american political development but also an international the growth of international governance institutions. but why would we rename why couldn't you rename a princeton dorm. where people have to spend their time the most vulnerable moment eating sleeping drinking. and it's understandably -- that it represents an ongoing threat to the comfort and safety. in your situation, can you imagine what would be your argument for maintaining the woodrow wilson name. and do you have thoughts on the
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larger question. and we could start with whoever would like to go first. >> i will go first. we have actually just a few years ago, had our board of trustees look at who we are and we're doing. our name is there not because we are a shrine to woodrow wilson, because we are an institution dedicated to [inaudible] . and he was a very -- president of the united states. so we would be doing a disservice if we -- it could put us out of business
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basically if we were to say we were going to talk about the president anymore. so for a time that's really where we were. and we feel that there is so much to learn. and we're expecting more from this individual from this presidency and we do want to make sure that people don't think were some sort of shrine. because with them being in the first gallery in the museum, i understand. as far as you know the -- [inaudible] i would defer to, whether it's the board of whatever organization that gets to make that decision. it's not my place to decide.
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i've had lots of other individuals contact me, and why did you ultimately decide to change the name. i have enough to worry about. it is not my role to put myself into the business of what princeton university is going to do. so i go to the board of whatever organization is handling that. >> i think it's a great question, who should be on the board. it really is a great question. in practical terms when i do the revisions of the website, our website is www. woodrow wilson dot o r g. to go and double back on that
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and to change the name, that would be very cumbersome. but there are some places that i found they did change the name to the president like woodrow wilson house. and you could find on instagram where -- . it is inch it is really interesting how that word president you, know how we have an online presence with that. i will be change to go? is it the house on -- street. and somebody said when you change it to the edith and woodrow wilson house. i think that is a fascinating subject. should we consider changing it because it is really her house.
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i think that's a flare for the first lady. and what's the role that the first lady had and we know this is really a story about woodrow wilson. but it is a discussion and it's interesting. >> they're also talking about changing into edith and woodrow wilson, would not in any way mitigate the -- . >> not at all not at all it would just compound it. >> exactly. >> i know that, the woodrow wilson home in south carolina, it has been construction
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because they're telling stories about it, so that is an opportunity to do something like that. i think they're doing wonderful work there. and it can be done and -- . >> right the reason i bring up the question is because or at least i can imagine with woodrow wilson himself saying that it should be to the people who are most affected by the time or at the time. >> so it is a complex problem. and perhaps the best thing
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would be hiring class rule is to make sure you talk about it more and be more open about it before making any decisions. i always like to wrap these things up, a little bit early because we live in a zoom age, and that has led people to giving people literally backed back to back meetings. but i would also like to see if there's any comments or closing comments, that you like to share that you didn't. or something that you might want to share with the audience. >> even if it's a particular event, for something and your organization. or a new offering on the
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website? >> sure of course. i will start. we, actually there are a number of events and activities that have changed spots. or conversations at the woodrow wilson house. i mentioned some of the tours that we do, and last year we had an exhibition in the garden. and we are because we can bring people inside during covid. so we had an exhibition safely at the wilson house. and i think the exhibition before that was on migration. i don't think we had an opportunity to discuss before that with the topics was -- and how the world has changed in 100 years. so we do very diverse and very different exhibitions that are
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constantly bringing back the conversation to what it was like 100 years ago, and how it made sense back then and to make sense of it today. and we look to have conversation with people. if people want to come to the wilson house, seven email. so me a text. let me know. come by the wilkie wilson house. and last week we had a group filming, about african town in alabama. and there was a curator from the smithsonian. and they used the wilson house to film and interview, and they mentioned that it was just an irony, that the african american in history would film something at the wilson house. and how important that is today.
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to have those kinds of conversations. about africa house in alabama, and the -- off the coast of alabama. talking about that at the wilson house. and that's really progress. that's what we want to see. new audiences. coming into a house like the woodrow wilson house. and keep the conversation going. we're only at the tip of the iceberg. have the conversations that we can have, and that we could bring in new ideas, new understandings, and so we welcome that. so i thank you and we are going to be doing a number of events, so check it out. check out the things we do, including and hopefully we will
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be having a fund-raiser. so i thank you. >> thank you. >> i would just say, what is relevant for today, and that is to see what we do here, and we work with our partners. and we are, or we want to be a safe place for people to have these uncomfortable conversations. this is how we grow and how we learn. and it's important that we have the dialogue. and as we look to experience one of the things that we're doing wanted to the things we're doing. and one of the things, that we
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want to reach out for your comments. where do you think we have blind spots. on what subjecting tell us what we're doing well. we want to hear from people. we want people to come down and visit us, and we are about two and a half hours southwest of -- were about 40 minutes west of virginia. we also have a virtual presence, we have an online presence that will be starting up here in a month. another thing i do want to mention, is we find we it is very important find is important for our community for
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us not to just wait for not for them necessarily to come to us but for us to go to our community. how gauged are we. our community to and there is an african american community here come to us but that we get to go to our community and how we engage, and with our we have not reached community. and for out to them in the way that so long, the african we should american community. and our small so it's city, they're not an understanding -- that we we reached out to them that way need we should to go to them, and, see -- see how we how we can build can from there. i get build trust. i get it i understand, it. i it is understand. it's very difficult difficult. considering whether exhibit might be about it's a battle. . you know you're walking into a building that sometimes has the name of someone [inaudible] who stands yell for everything that you stand against [inaudible] . so we want to start with that, but having said that --
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one of the things we often find, that woodrow wilson was the last president that was worn into a house that had slaves. so we are trying to find out who those individuals are, and through our partners and the archeology department, -- it -- we have looks to be on our site what's used to be quarters that would have helped individuals well before, this well before woodrow wilson's home was born. and so would've been -- and [inaudible] -- i'm one of those that believe he would've been born. that this is and how we have as a country, we need to do all we been as a country, can to tell and we need to tell the story the story there and so just one of the there, things that we are so doing here that's at the presidential one thing that we're going to put in the library presidential, to tell
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library, to tell the a story of who story we are as a country. . as a country >>. >> thank you very much, thank you very i want to much. i want to thank thank elizabeth, the elizabeth karcher of the woodrow wilson woodrow wilson house in washington, d.c.. and house, robin and robin von seldeneck says of the of the woodrow woodrow wilson wilson presidential library and resident presidential library museum for and memorial and museum in virginia. thank you so joining us. much for joining us and for. and for being as open as they've being as open as they've been about been about their work their work and, and their their passions and ideals, and the their challenges that come ideals. and the with them challenges that come or got comes with those passions and with that work. ideals. i also want to thank i also want to thank every one of you who every one of you, joined us for this who is behind us for this episode in a series episode we've been doing and i want to now. i point you to our would like to point you to website our website where and you could find episodes of the previous episodes of the series series where we where we address wilson's connection address wilson to the connection past and to a path contemporary and issues of to the issues of misinformation and misinformation, government censorship and censorship to
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lost and to lost opportunities opportunities for peacemaking in the in the social global arena. arena, and to the to the politics of politics of race race and wilson's day and, and our i'd like to invite own. and i would like to all you invite you all to to invite us join us for to all of you the nexus, which actually is to invite all future next installment devoted to the life of william monroe,. and we will be and welcoming the we will professor to talk to assist using a famous infamous encounter between wilson and trotter in the oval office. not just to further explore on issues, but also trotter himself and his career at center stage to ensure that people would know much more than just someone who got kicked out of wilson's office. that it is someone that we can learn a lot from and gain inspiration, in all sorts of other ways as well. so thank you everybody for
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joining and please join us again. one final thank you to liz a bit and robin for a great conversation, and i wish everybody a wonderful week. up next christopher leahy -- to succeed the president who died in office. hello again, everyone. welcome to another edition of our lecture series. and vice president for
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