Earlier this week I wrote about the controversy surrounding a Fargo high school named after former President Woodrow Wilson. My colleague Jim Shaw wrote a column saying Wilson’s name should be removed from the school because he was a racist and a bad president.
Which are true things. He was a racist. He was also a progressive Democrat. I have little interest in defending the honor of Woodrow Wilson. That said, my argument is that since the school has already had this name for roughly a century, that it should be used to teach. Rather than erasing Wilson’s legacy, lean into it. Teach it.
Anyway, yesterday I had Shaw on my radio show and we debated the issue (audio below). I understand his points – I don’t think he’s making a stupid argument or a crazy one – I’m just in favor of confronting ugly history. I’m afraid that removing the name would be something akin to hiding that history.
Today this letter writer to the Fargo Forum, while agreeing with my argument about preserving even uncomfortable history, suggests that Wilson’s name isn’t appropriate for the school because he was “another white guy.”
So another white guy was president, and in that position he did a few good things, big deal. What Port suggests is that we leave the name as is because it’s always been that way, and we should just teach the kids what a real tool the guy was. […]
Call me a progressive, but I think it’s time to stop overlooking the profound character flaws of historical white men in incredibly powerful positions, and start giving highest honor to the nobodies of the time who dedicated their lives to making immense differences from the front lines.
It matters that Wilson was a racist. It matters that he proposed and enacted some truly awful public policy. I’m not sure why it matters that he was white.
One of the knocks on Wilson is that he was a segregationist. He brought segregationists into his cabinet who, in turn, fired blacks and other minorities from public office. In other words, they judged people on the color of their skin and not their work product.
So, bringing it back to the issue of school names, if you’re going to choose who to honor (or not honor) based on their skin color, how are you any better than a segregationist?
Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always believed what Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the content of one’s character mattering more than skin color.