"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Woodrow Wilson

This c. 1919 painting of Woodrow Wilson by John Christen Johansen hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
"Elected to the White House after winning wide acclaim as the reforming governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson left an impressive legacy of change that sought to curb abusive business practices and improve conditions for workers. But Wilson was not as successful in winning approval for his inter­national idealism during World War I. Determined to make this conflict 'the war to end all wars,' he sought at its end to create a world order that put peace ahead of national self-interest. America's European allies, however, undermined these hopes, insisting on a postwar peace settlement that contained the seeds of another war. A far worse disappointment for Wilson himself was his failure to persuade his own country to join the League of Nations, an organization he had conceived as the best hope for avoiding future wars. Having suffered a stroke while campaigning for American entry into the league, he left office in 1921, broken in both health and spirit." -- National Portrait Gallery

The NPG skips over Wilson's less savory legacy of racism. In the words of a recent New York Times Editorial:
"Wilson, who took office in 1913, inherited a federal government that had been shaped during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when thousands of African-American men and women passed Civil Service examinations or received political appointments that landed them in well-paying, middle-class government jobs in which they sometimes supervised white workers. This was anathema to Wilson, who believed that black Americans were unworthy of full citizenship and admired the Ku Klux Klan for the role it had in terrorizing African-Americans to restrict their political power...

As the historian Eric Yellin shows in 'Racism in the Nation’s Service,' Wilson stocked his government with segregationists who shared his point of view. The man he chose for the postal department, which had the most black employees nationally, had campaigned on the promise that the Democratic Party could be counted on to keep black people out of its own ranks and out of the government affairs of the Southern states. In this way, the administration set about segregating the work force, driving out highly placed black employees and shunting the rest into lower-paying jobs." -- NYT, Nov.24, 2015.
This quote from Wilson in appeared in D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation:

"The white man were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation ..... until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern Country." -- Woodrow Wilson. (Wikipedia)

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