By Paul A. Rahe
One hundred years ago today, Woodrow Wilson brought Jim Crow to the North. He had been inaugurated on March 4, 1913. At a cabinet meeting on April 11, his postmaster general, Albert S. Burleson, suggested that the new administration segregate the railway mail service; and treasury secretary William G. McAdoo, who would soon become Wilson’s son-in-law, chimed in to signal his support. Wilson followed their lead. He had made a bid for the African-American vote in 1912, and he had attracted the support of figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, but, as he put it at the meeting, he had made “no promises in particular to Negroes, except to do them justice.” Burleson’s proposal he welcomed, but he wanted “the matter adjusted in a way to make the least friction.”
Wilson, our first professorial president, was a case in point. He was the very model of a modern Progressive, and he was recognized as such. He prided himself on having pioneered the new science of rational administration, and he shared the conviction, dominant among his brethren, that African-Americans were racially inferior to whites. With the dictates of Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement in mind, in 1907, he campaigned in Indiana for the compulsory sterilization of criminals and the mentally retarded; and in 1911, while governor of New Jersey, he proudly signed into law just such a bill.
Prior to the segregation of the civil service in 1913, appointments had been made solely on merit as indicated by the candidate’s performance on the civil-service examination. Thereafter, racial discrimination became the norm. Photographs came to be required at the time of application, and African-Americans knew they would not be hired. The existing work force was segregated. Many African-Americans were dismissed. In the postal service, others were transferred to the dead-letter office, where they had no contact with the general public. …
For some reason, I don’t think I’ll bother looking on the NYT’s or WashPost’s website for a celebration of this Wilsonian “accomplishment”.
I knew Wilson was a thoroughgoing racist, but this surprises me a little. First, I didn’t know that Ds’ suckering blacks into voting for them and then betraying them went back a full century. Second, DuBois’ apparent (hopefully, unwitting) damaging of the blacks he supposedly represented (not a great word choice, just the best that came to mind) - he certainly is revered by many blacks today - is both sadly and deliciously ironic. DuBois is much revered; Booker T. Washington, who he vehemently opposed, is viewed by many blacks as either deceived or even a race traitor. Pathetic!