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Princeton, Woodrow Wilson and my father

July 1, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2015 file photo shows the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. Princeton University announced Monday, April 4, 2016, that Woodrow Wilson's name will remain on Princeton University's public policy school, despite calls to remove it because the former U.S. president was a segregationist. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File

Mark Whitaker writes that as Princeton comes to terms with its imperfect legacy on race, it should not forget the first generation of Black scholars and administrators who were sent into battle with so little reinforcement.

(CNN)When I heard the stunning news that Princeton University was removing the name Woodrow Wilson from its famed School of Public and International Affairs in belated acknowledgment of the racist views held by the former US President and one-time head of that Ivy League institution, the first thing I thought of was my father's experience as a Black man at Princeton.

Since my father was one of the few Princeton alumni who achieved his level of academic stature, they set out to lure him back with a seemingly attractive offer to chair a new "Afro-American Studies Program" and a tenured position at the Woodrow Wilson School.

My father accepted, but he soon discovered that the university was not really serious about creating the academically rigorous Black Studies department that he envisioned.

As Princeton's Provost in the '80's, Neil Rudenstine helped the university lure Cornel West; then as president of Harvard in the '90's, Rudenstine hired and empowered Black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. to build the best Department of African-American Studies in the world.

As a Princeton associate dean, Ruth Simmons supported Valerie Smith in her expansion efforts before becoming the first Black president of Smith College and Brown University.

Princeton's current President, Christopher Eisgruber, was guided toward the Woodrow Wilson resolution by university Trustee Brent Henry, a prominent Black medical attorney who, fittingly, received his undergraduate degree from the Wilson school in that fateful sit-in year of 1969.

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