Letter to the Editor of Princeton Alumni Weekly

From William A. Percy
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This letter was published in the June 7, 2006 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly

The legacy of Wilson

Mark F. Bernstein '83's article praising Woodrow Wilson 1879 (cover story; April 19) contained a by-now outdated and unacceptable condescension: "Presidential scholarship has taken note of Wilson's racism; a son of the South, he failed to pursue racial justice."

He went on to quote approvingly a historian as saying,"Wilson was simply typical of his generation of Southerners in his attitude toward race."

If either Mr. Bernstein or the historian had read the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910-11), then they would have found racism in that most authoritative and celebrated of referenced works. Its entry for "Negro" stated,"Mentally the negro is inferior to the white' At the time, professors at Harvard and Yale were spewing out similar white supremacist drivel. The sad, awful truth is that racism was accepted throughout the whole of the United States, as well as of Europe. It was not limited to the American South. Racism at that time contaminated virtually all white Americans. Regrettably, in his attitude toward African-Americans President Wilson was a product of his age and country, not just of Dixie.

Professor of History
University of Massachusetts, Boston Boston, Mass.

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