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Your excellent article on the 1919 riots (“Lost Riot,” 4/3) quotes Howard University historian Elizabeth Clark-Lewis as noting that President Woodrow Wilson was “an ardent segregationist” who used the power of the presidency to “codify what was essentially a social practice.” The fact is that Wilson resegregated this city after years of slow movement in the opposite direction. Needless to say, Wilson’s legacy lives on in this city whose development he severely set back.
So why he is honored as a great president by most historians, always ranking up there with Washington, Lincoln, and FDR? Simply because attitudes and actions toward African-Americans are not included in the
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calculation. No one denies that Wilson was a racist and segregationist. It is just that there are “larger” issues—white issues, I guess, that outweigh matters of race for mainstream historians.
Enough. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is about to be rebuilt or replaced. Because it is a gateway to Washington, the leaders of this city and local representatives in Congress should insist that we not honor a man whose local legacy is entirely negative. The bridge should be renamed. Wilson was a Southern president who helped institutionalize racism. How about naming the new bridge after a Southern president who did everything he could to fight it, Lyndon B. Johnson? Perhaps Johnson’s son-in-law, Senator Chuck Robb, could be enlisted to lead the fight. But whether it’s Johnson or someone else, the name Woodrow Wilson does not belong on any public institution in this area. Segregationists and racists are, quite simply, bad people. They should not, must not, be honored.
Chevy Chase, Md.
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