Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States,
was both a statesman and a racist. How do we handle that?
Plainfielders will have a unique opportunity to weigh in on an important discussion about how historic figures are judged -- in this case, Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States, former governor of New Jersey and former president of Princeton University -- at the Drake House Sunday afternoon.
Mussolini is credited with making the Italian trains run on time. Hitler gave Germany the Volkswagen and the Autobahn (precursor of our Interstates). However, they are not remembered for these.
President Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower is remembered as the father of our Interstate Highway System and for presiding over the most intense years of the Cold War. It is hardly mentioned that he did almost nothing to advance civil rights for Black Americans.
John F. Kennedy is viewed sympathetically because he was assassinated, but not much remembered for bringing us to the edge of nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Lyndon Johnson (LBJ to my generation), from a conservative rural Texas district, actually did more for civil rights than JFK ever did, but he is also remembered for miring us in the failed Vietnam misadventure.
How do we make informed judgments about world-historical figures in a fully rounded way?
Woodrow Wilson is a case in point.
A Southerner and a Democrat, he took up the Progressive fight against the excesses of the monopolists that had begun under his Republican predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt.
He was also a racist.
There would probably be no United Nations today had it not been for Wilson's so-called "14 Points" proposal to create the League of Nations (which Congress refused to ratify, and to which the United States never formally belonged).
Plainfielder Larry Bashe, who teaches history at Union County College and once served as Plainfield's city administrator, will take up Wilson and his critics in a talk titled "The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson: Good and Bad" Sunday, April 10, 2:00 PM at the Drake House. The talk is free and open to the community.
Light refreshments will be served.
The Drake House Museum at 602 West Front Street (at the foot of Plainfield Avenue) is open to the public Sunday afternoons from 2:00 - 4:00 PM, and at other times by appointment. For more information, call (908) 755-5831 or visit the website at drakehouseplainfieldnj.org/.
-- Dan Damon [follow]