Progressive Racism


Progressive Racism
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!


Booker T. Washington did a great service in the area of educating blacks. Another one, a colleague of his, was George Washington Carver.


Excellent article, Pete. Thanks.

And from it:

In 1900, E. L. Godkin, founder and longtime editor of The Nation, saw the handwriting on the wall. In the pages of that journal, he lamented that “the Declaration of Independence no longer arouses enthusiasm; it is an embarrassing instrument which requires to be explained away. The Constitution is said to be ‘outgrown.’” Those who once “boasted that it had secured for the negro the rights of humanity and citizenship” now listen “in silence to the proclamation of white supremacy” and make “no protest against the nullifications of the Fifteenth Amendment.”

And proving that we’re hard-put to learn from history:

Today’s progressives eschew Social Darwinism and the pseudo-scientific racism espoused by their intellectual forebears, and they oppose racial segregation and the sterilization of criminals and the mentally retarded. But they are no less confident of their own righteousness than were the Progressives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they have no more respect for the rights espoused in the Declaration of Independence, for limited government, and for constitutional forms than did their predecessors. On this day, the hundredth anniversary of Wilson’s segregation of the civil service, they ought to reflect on the terrible damage apt to be done by an unlimited government disdainful of the natural rights of man and dedicated to rational administration as envisaged by fallible men.

Yes, they ought.
However, Political Correctness will rule over the priviledge, the right, and the very need to do so.

I’ll have to remember this Paul A. Rahe. Solid writer. (I haven’t heard the description, “high minded,” in a while. Very apt for P. Wilson.)

I, too, hadn’t realized the D’s suckering went back that far.
And I’ll have to look up W.E.B Dubois.


Well, I’ll be darned. I didn’t know it was WEB Dubois who started the NAACP, and that…

While working as a professor at Atlanta University, W.E.B. Du Bois rose to national prominence when he very publicly opposed Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise,” an agreement that asserted that vocational education for blacks was more valuable to them than social advantages like higher education or political office. Du Bois criticized Washington for not demanding equality for African Americans, as granted by the 14th Amendment. Du Bois fought what he believed was an inferior strategy, subsequently becoming a spokesperson for full and equal rights in every realm of a person’s life.

And yet, he went along with Wilson. Why, I wonder. Fame, and thereby, more attention to his cause? How could he not know that Wilson was using him to the core? Or, perhaps, he didn’t care.
Nonetheless, interesting.
Thanks for prompting me to learn a little more.


Whatever source that came from, it misrepresents Booker T. Washington’s views. I recommend highly Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery to get a good understanding of what Washington advocated. I’m 99% sure it can be found online as a free e-text, and possibly free in Kindle and/or Nook formats. It’s in print, AFAIK, and is well worth having. Basically, Washington recognized several realities: racism and hatred of blacks existed and was on the rise in the South (and elsewhere in the US, though Washington’s focus was the South); most blacks, in the Reconstruction era, were starting from near zero in terms of education, culture and even basics like hygiene; for a minority so situated, getting their full rights recognized socially required making themselves necessary. So Tuskegee, initially, focused on taking blacks from where they were to being the kinds of skilled and educated people who could make themselves necessary to their communities. If that was an “inferior strategy” - I don’t think it was - DuBois seemed not to recognize present reality and to demand things immediately for which not many blacks were then prepared. Washington’s strategy, IMO, would get many more blacks prepared and accepted for what DuBois demanded, just not immediately.


That’s what I grasped from the paragraph I quoted.
Dubios favored ‘total, instant gratification’, while Washington favored a more practical, common sense approach to eventually earning the status they deserved.

From what you said, I don’t see how that misrepresents B.T.W.'s views.


There are always communications, statements, acts, and conversations that aren’t documented for various reasons. Sometimes it’s monetary, sometimes it’s for political support, sometimes it’s for public relations and public support.
We are left with a spotted historical record with falsehoods sprinkled throughout. We try to decode what we are left with and come upwith the truth as best we can. I’m sure we are sometimes 180 degrees off. But we must keep on trying.
Wasn’t Dubois the one who bought a ship to transport Africans who wanted to return to Africa back there? Wasn’t the ship burned under suspicious circumstances by persons unknown? Some say it was burned by White Business men who didn’t want to lose teir cheap labor, others say it was burned by Blacks who opposed Dubois plan, people who had no other homeland but America, people who were as rooted in America as anyone, including Whites. I saw a PBS doumentary on it once a long time ago and there was as many mysteries as facts about the whole affair.


I vaguely recall reading about that. But, as you most likely know, if you saw it on PBS, it’s best to remain sceptical.
Same, sadly, goes for The History Channel.