“Being a Founding White Father Ain’t What It Used To Be:” Student Protests on College Campuses

Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report, says that student protests around the world against racist legacies of former leaders and a lack of diversity at their universities speaks to a resurgence of old political struggles

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

Executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report Glen Ford joins us again for this week’s Ford Report. Glen, welcome back to the Real News.

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thanks for having me here.

BALL: So at Princeton University students want to rid themselves of the racist symbol that has become Woodrow Wilson. The students at Harvard want the same regarding their law school’s founder Isaac Royall. Students across the pond at Oxford are expressing solidarity with these efforts and their own to rid their university of the racist legacy of Cecil Rhodes. And here in Baltimore, Towson State University students are protesting the lack of diversity in faculty and student body. And the students at Brown University have earned a response from administrators there, which says $100 million over 10 years will be invested in an effort to diversify their campus. Glen Ford, what do you see all this meaning?

FORD: Well, Jared, it seems that being a founding white father ain’t what it used to be. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

At Princeton they don’t want to just drag Woodrow Wilson’s name through the mud. They want it taken off of the prestigious school of public policy, and to take it off of a residential college on that campus. And they want there to be established mandatory courses at Princeton that would teach the history of marginalized peoples. And not just black folks, but Asians and others, all of whom Woodrow Wilson had no time or space for.

But disassociating Woodrow Wilson from Princeton University is for that college a very big deal, because he was president of Princeton before he moved into the White House, and took the nation into World War I. And while he was in the White House, he also introduced for the first time Jim Crow segregation into the federal civil service. And while he was at that, he wrote about what such a great organization the Ku Klux Klan was. All of this was a great shock to the growing civil rights movement of the time, and especially to W. E. B. Du Bois, because W. E. B. Du Bois had urged other blacks to switch their traditional allegiance to the Republican party and try Wilson. And the reason that Du Bois did that, because he was fed up with the racism of a previous president, Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt, in addition to all kinds of racist statements, had dishonorably discharged 167 black soldiers from the U.S. Army after they had a clash with local whites in Brownsville, Texas. So that really tore it between W. E. B. Du Bois and Teddy Roosevelt, who then endorsed Woodrow Wilson’s candidacy.

But Woodrow Wilson turned out to be even worse. He approved the execution by hanging of 19 black soldiers who’d gotten into a clash with local whites in Houston, Texas. All the while he was bringing Jim Crow to the federal civil service. Woodrow Wilson is also known, and in fact better known, as being a champion of the League of Nations. And because he championed the League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations, lots of people, those who know anything at all about Woodrow Wilson, or think they do, think of him as being some kind of progressive or a liberal president. But for Woodrow Wilson, his League of Nations was meant to be nothing but a white man’s club. A club of the imperial powers, which the United States had joined, that would use the organization to better enslave the colored and colonized people of the world who would run the world like a white man’s club, which was the way he ran Princeton University. When he was president of Princeton not one black student was allowed on campus.

Today’s protesters at Princeton say that they don’t want to erase the name of Woodrow Wilson fro history. They want to expose Woodrow Wilson and all of his evil deeds in terms of history, and teach a different kind of history. But their protest and the protests that you enumerated at the beginning of this piece also invite the question, which American presidents were not racist? And what U.S. institutions are not rooted in slavery and genocide and the imperial murder of millions of people? The fact of the matter is, yes, Woodrow Wilson was an evil man and a racist man. But evil and militarism and racism play very well in the United States today.

BALL: Well, I did mean to ask you very quickly what this all meant in terms of the nation in which we live. As you sort of mentioned. I mean, here we are, at least I am, in Baltimore. Named after Lord Baltimore. Right down the road from a city named after Washington, DC. In fact, the Washington monument is–there’s a monument to him here in this city, as well. And all over the country, north and south, we have a number of institutions, roads and streets, et cetera, named after some of the worst forms of humanity the world has ever produced. I’ve thought of that in preparing for this conversation with you. But also this idea that this is happening, you know, 50-60 years after a black power and black studies movement which sought to bring about the same or similar demands to college campuses. The institution of black studies, Africana studies, et cetera. What do you think all this might mean in terms of sort of the cycle of revolution, or the idea that revolution is a process, not an event?

FORD: Well, here we have this burgeoning, incipient movement which began as a response to police state violence. But when it spreads to college campuses, people thrown down their buckets where they are. And start–and since college is supposed to be a place of learning, black students are demanding that the curriculum reflect truths that were not previously recognized, including the truths about the United States. So I think it’s quite a good sign that a movement that gets a rejuvenation based on police violence issues now seems to be talking not just about a whole revenge of economic issues and other things, but about the very nature of the United States, which is reflected on those place names, and these people that are given homage in the United States. There needs to be quite clearly a, a total evaluation of the place that we live in and what we want to do with it.

BALL: Glen Ford, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News.

FORD: Thank you.

BALL: And thank you for joining us here as well. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying again, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.

End

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