D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Photo by Darrow Montgomery. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson‘s report on Woodrow Wilson and the high school named after him begins with a glowing depiction of the documented racist and 28th president that caused dismay from some of his colleagues.

Mendelson defended his report, which starts by twice calling Wilson a “great president” and a “progressive Democrat,” before he agreed to pull the resolution that would start the process of renaming Woodrow Wilson High School.

“Woodrow Wilson High School is named after this great President,” Mendelson’s report reads. “But this high school is located in Washington DC—home to the federal government, and part of the public school system for a city in which a large percentage of the populace is African American.”

The report continues: “The name of a public school should not be antagonistic to local values. Yet Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential administration was antagonistic—actually, harmful—to the African American community of Washington, D.C.”

The chairman goes on to say in his report that “it may be appropriate to name a public school elsewhere after President Wilson because of his great accomplishments, [but] it is not appropriate to have one of our high schools named after this public figure.”

At-Large Councilmember David Grosso first objected to Mendelson’s characterization during the Council’s breakfast meeting Tuesday morning. Grosso said he would not support the measure without changes to the report. He likened the impact of Wilson’s racist policies to the actions of President Donald Trump, his connection to white supremacist groups, and his recent refusal to condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group that supports him.

“Saying [Wilson] was a great president, saying this school is named after a great president, to me is a misnomer,” Grosso said.

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, a Wilson High School alumnus, was also critical of the report’s characterization of Wilson and said he wanted to see similarly descriptive language used to describe Wilson’s racist policies.

Mendelson defended his report and Wilson’s record on international relations.

The report, Mendelson pointed out, acknowledges Wilson’s “complicated legacy,” and his “unambiguously negative” record in D.C. It quotes from a 1948 report that says Wilson “segregated the U.S. federal government and oversaw the the expansion of Jim Crow segregation measures in the District of Columbia.”

The school is on Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s list of local facilities and monuments named after people with “disqualifying histories” of bigotry. Princeton University, from which Wilson graduated and where he later served as president, removed his name from a residential college and its School of Public and International Affairs earlier this year.

Had Mendelson not agreed to edit the report, Grosso planned read his specific objections into the record. “The Progressive era the committee report praises coincided with widespread Black disenfranchisement and the birth of full-scale terrorist attacks on Black communities,” Grosso’s statement says. The report also acknowledges Wilson’s role in negotiating an end to World War I, but doesn’t talk his efforts to kill a proposal to include language on racial equity in the Treaty of Versailles.

“Woodrow Wilson does not deserve to have a Public School named after him here in the District of Columbia or anywhere in the world,” Grosso’s statement says.