Juneteenth and Questioning a President’s Legacy

Today we celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of Union Army General, Gordon Granger, announcing that all enslaved people in Texas were free. Texas was the most remote, and the last, state in the Confederacy to officially receive the news.

In honor of the holiday, a vigil was held at DC’s own Woodrow Wilson High School as part of efforts to change the school’s name. The DC History of Justice Collective is heading a grassroots effort to change the school’s name to better reflect the city’s, as well as national, values. President Wilson’s administration is remembered for demoting black workers in the civil service as well as instituting racist policies, including segregation in housing and education, that destroyed the black middle class in Washington, DC.

As highlighted in Ciesla’s “Rosenwald” documentary (the full clip of which can be seen here), Woodrow Wilson saw the film “Birth of a Nation,” by D.W. Griffith, at the White House in 1915. The film borrowed heavily from Wilson’s own work, “A History of the American People”. While the film today is recognized for its vile racist propaganda and the part it played in reviving the KKK in America, at the time Wilson said of the film, “It is all so terribly true.”

Like Rosenwald at the time who, along with the NAACP, helped to get the film banned from playing in Chicago, there is an understanding now that “Birth of a Nation,” is a deeply racist and fictitious portrayal of history. That understanding should extend to President Woodrow Wilson himself. He should no longer be honored with a school that bears his name.