Last Sunday’s Ideas piece “10 Ways of looking at Woodrow Wilson” left out a very important perspective on Wilson — what I would call “Jim Crow racist.” Although Wilson was a progessive on most issues, on the matter of race he did not escape his Southern roots and training.
He famously endorsed D.W. Griffith’s epic Civil War film “Birth of a Nation” as “history written with lightning,” after a White House screening. The film was, of course, a perfect depiction of the South’s “Lost Cause” mythology, replete with happy, loyal slaves and animalistic African-American Union soldiers lusting after pure-hearted Southern white women.
On a less symbolic level, and with all-too-real human impact, Wilson resegregated the federal bureaucracy in Washington. At the nadir of post-emancipation race relations, Wilson actively made matters worse.
It’s a sad 11th way of looking at Wilson, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten.