Staunton’s Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Revisits Former President’s Legacy


STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) – Across the country, people count with the past of people whose buildings are named after and statues are built in honor of.

Princeton University announced on Friday that it would change the name of its school of public policy and a residential college. Both are named after Woodrow Wilson, and the university has said Wilson’s racist beliefs and policies don’t make him a good namesake.

Wilson was born in Staunton. Staff at the Presidential Woodrow Wilson Library and Museum in Staunton said they continue to share the full picture of Wilson’s legacy.

“We very clearly agree that Woodrow Wilson was indeed a racist, that’s something we talk about when people come here for a visit,” said Robin von Seldeneck, president and CEO of the library. .

The library released a statement Sunday following the announcement from Princeton University. In the statement, staff said they recognize Wilson to be racist and not apologize for it.

However, they said that “our organization opposes racism, hatred and bigotry in all its forms and we are committed to being a resource for an honest, transparent and inclusive history”.

Von Seldeneck said Wilson is continuing the work that President William Taft started before him. Wilson continued to segregate the Postal Service and the US Treasury. The library said they were discussing these parts of Wilson’s legacy at the museum.

“We are not a sanctuary for Woodrow Wilson, it is not our role. Our role is specifically to educate about life and times, and what we like to say here is that we are talking about warts. and everything, ”said von Seldeneck.

She added that Wilson had accomplished great things and received a Nobel Peace Prize. However, like many former presidents, von Seldeneck said he was an imperfect individual. In 2006, the museum hosted a symposium titled “Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson: Democracy and the Race Dilemma”. von Seldeneck said it’s something they’ve been talking about for years, but there hasn’t always been interest.

“We have, perhaps quietly, talked about this, I will also say that we have a long way to go, like all the other institutions,” said von Seldeneck.

The museum hopes to advance the discussion through its updated museum plans. In 2019, the museum received a grant of $ 60,000 to redo the exhibits. The museum will reopen on July 1 and they will then launch their new plans. von Seldeneck said a change will be the way the museum begins. Instead of starting with his birth, von Seldeneck said the museum would now start with the election of Wilson.

Additionally, there will be four figures that people can follow through the museum. von Seldeneck said the museum will show how Wilson’s policies and legislation affected each of their lives.

The museum will be free for the first five days of July. von Seldeneck said they wanted people to come back to the museum and see what they have planned to update the museum, which has not been updated for about 30 years. They hope to get feedback from the community on the changes.

“We believe it is essential to listen,” said von Seldeneck. “We’re very open to hearing what our community thinks about how we plan to interpret with the new museum, for example.”

Copyright 2020 WHSV. All rights reserved.


Kevin E. Boling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.