NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 91

k Woodrow Wilson “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation — until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.” and: “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” “[Reconstruction government was detested] not because the Republican Party was dreaded but because the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded.” These are not the rantings for some Klansman with a burning cross in the background. These are the sober and measured words of the 28th President of the United States who institutionalized racial segregation in the federal civil service through use of his executive power and hosted the premiere showing of the classic racist motion picture “Birth of a Nation” in the White House. What is known about President Wilson is that he was a committed and unapologetic racist who believed in white supremacy with all his heart. Forty other men have been inaugurated President of the United States and we would do well to understand their racial policies as part of our understanding of their presidencies. Clearly historians have either ignored or diminished the importance of this aspect of the national perception of the American presidency. For many citizens of this country, white and black, American myth is clearly more comforting than American reality. But as this overview indicates, to this very day this nation honors slave owners and racists who actively and publicly sought to oppress and humiliate black Americans. The fact that they represented the times in which they live is but small comfort to black Americans today or to their ancestors who had to live through those times. To those who would argue that these horrific events, actions and rhetoric belong to the past, the response must be that until this unholy American past is recognized and denounced, there can be no possibility of real progress in the present or institutional and cultural change in the future. The first step to recovery is always the recognition of the problem. True American history can teach us a lot. Revisionist and mythical history blinds us to the truth and binds us to a reality that is neither desirable nor sustainable. n BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Perhaps because of his southern heritage he made statements such as: and also: 89 Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States and is best known for his progressive policies, his leadership of this country during World War I and his quixotic effort to found the League of Nations, the direct ancestor the United Nations. Wilson was a native of Virginia and president of Princeton University, acknowledged to be the most “southern” of the Ivy League schools.