W.E.B. Du Bois on Woodrow Wilson

It is worth reading what one of the African-American civil rights leaders, and a brilliant man, thought of Woodrow Wilson at the time of his candidacy:

As to Mr. Wilson, there are, one must confess, disquieting facts; he was born in Virginia, and he was long president of a college which did not admit Negro students…On the whole, we do not believe that Woodrow Wilson admires Negroes…Notwithstanding such possible preferences, Woodrow Wilson is a cultivated scholar and he has brains…We have, therefore, a conviction that Mr. Wilson will treat black men and their interests with farsighted fairness.  He will not be our friend, but he will not belong to the gang of which Tillman, Vardaman, Hoke Smith and Blease are the brilliant expositors.  He will not advance the cause of an oligarchy in the South, he will not seek further means of “jim crow” insult, he will not dismiss black men wholesale from office, and he will remember that the Negro…has a right to be heard and considered, and if he becomes President by the grace of the black man’s vote, his Democratic successors may be more willing to pay the black man’s price of decent travel, free labor, votes and education.

That is from pp.187-188 of August Meier, Negro Thought in America 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington.  You can see that Du Bois did not “have it in” for Wilson.

And here is a letter from September 1913, from Dubois to Wilson, after Wilson had been in office for but half a year:

Sir, you have now been President of the United States for six months and what is the result? It is no exaggeration to say that every enemy of the Negro race is greatly encouraged; that every man who dreams of making the Negro race a group of menials and pariahs is alert and hopeful. Vardaman, Tillman, Hoke Smith, Cole Blease, and Burleson are evidently assuming that their theory of the place and destiny of the Negro race is the theory of your administration, They and others are assuming this because not a single act and not a single word of yours since election has given anyone reason to infer that you have the slightest interest in the colored people or desire to alleviate their intolerable position, A dozen worthy Negro officials have been removed from office, and you have nominated but one black man for office, and he such a contemptible cur, that his very nomination was an insult to every Negro in the land.

To this negative appearance of indifference has been added positive action on the part of your advisers, with or without your knowledge, which constitutes the gravest attack on the liberties of our people since emancipation, Public segregation of civil servants in government employ, necessarily involving personal insult and humiliation, has for the first time in history been made the policy of the United States government.

By the way, I’ve also learned that Du Bois, despite his Marxist sympathies, studied economics with Taussig at Harvard, had well-worked out views on Mill and Ricardo, and once wrote a paper defending the economics of the gold standard.  He also studied with Gustav Schmoller at what was then the University of Berlin, now Humboldt University.


Web Dubois did not have Marxist sympathies, he was an out and out Stalinist, and remained one even after the secret speech was publicized. I cannot stand Wilson, but let us not pretend Dubois was a good judge of character. Here is what he said on Stalin's death:


Wow this is cringe-worthy. #TeamTrotsky

No, he wasn't a Stalinist; he was a man whose anti-capitalism grew so strong with the years that he saw the Soviet Union as the world's only counterbalance to Western imperialism and oppression. So, he was right about almost everything except Stalin and the USSR. Kind of a mirror image of Christopher Hitchens' take on Churchill: wrong about everything except Hitler.

"Kind of a mirror image of Christopher Hitchens’ take on Churchill: wrong about everything except Hitler."
I think Galbraith used that line too on Churchill too.

No, it means he was consistently wrong on everything. As Western Imperialism was the best thing to happen to the planet and either no oppression took place under it, or it was the least possible degree of oppression available. That he supported the replacement of liberal Western colonial regimes by murdering Third World Marxist ones is proof of his indifference to the welfare of Africans.

Which kind of makes his whole life a joke.

Don't get out much, do you?

Anyone who thinks middle class Peoria is the measure of all evil is parochial and naive by definition.

None of the post-colonial states have come close to the West's human rights record. The worst have been Communist states and their friends. But indigenous rulers like Idi Amin can be just as bad. The French did not make Bokassa eat people.

Even India, which probably has the best claim to sticking with the Western liberal tradition, ran death squads in its war on the Sikhs and now with the Maoists. It also regularly tortures.

Equatorial Africa, the Horn of Africa and some territory in between has been haphazardly and brutally governed the last 20 years, but most of the continent is run by political machines operating in a pluralistic nexus. Africa's problem are economic (low productivity) and social (high crime rates most places) or an intersection of the two (public health deficits). Africa's political problem is the deficit of state capacity in tackling these problems. Abattoir regimes like that of Idi Amin or Francisco Macias had disappeared by 1990, for the most part (the Sudan an exception). The real problem in Equatorial Africa and on the Horn has been disorder and the evaporation of the state. On a much smaller scale, you see that in certain provinces in northern Nigeria as well.

None of the post-colonial states have come close to the West’s human rights record.

The black Caribbean states have satisfactory human rights records.

Bot so sure that the West is sticking to the Western liberal tradition - torture memos, extrajudicial drone executions, detention without access to a court....

I also agree.

the one place where DuBois had good ideas but were never applied was in his disagreement with Marcus Garvey on how to uplift American Blacks. DuBois favored economic development and meritocracy as a route to eventual political power. His talented tenth would pave the way. Garvey wanted to attain political power first, and then economic development would naturally follow. Time has led to Garvey's method being implemented, unintentionally, and has also proven it wrong. Eventually, with desegregation, the talented tenth moved out of the Black only neighborhoods and left them without any enforcers of bourgeois values and civility, aside from some religious holdovers. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/politics/poverty/origin1.htm

I'm sure the people under those hoods at Abu Ghraib will be delighted to learn their private parts were shocked using the 'least amount of oppression available.'


seems a bit rich to say 'even India had death squads' when the US installed or supported so many regimes that used death squads trained and supplied by the US.

the US installed or supported so many regimes that used death squads trained and supplied by the US.

1. Define 'supported'

2. Give us a list.

curmudgeonly troll December 1, 2015 at 11:32 am

I’m sure the people under those hoods at Abu Ghraib will be delighted to learn their private parts were shocked using the ‘least amount of oppression available.’

The prisoners are Abu Ghraib begged the Americans not to leave when they did, in fact, leave. Because they knew perfectly well what having the Iraqi government take over the prison meant. So I don't think they need to learn. I think they know. Those that are still alive.

But the Left did not care about torture. It only cared about torture it could blame on America. So if their demands led to more torture, that was totally OK. They don't care. See their support for Pol Pot.

seems a bit rich to say ‘even India had death squads’ when the US installed or supported so many regimes that used death squads trained and supplied by the US.

The US has foreign relations with the powers that be. Sensible. So does everyone else. They do not train death squads. The French did. Which is why so many of them use techniques pioneered in Algeria.

But again, no interest unless it can be blamed on America.

32 years ago today, 3 nuns were raped and murdered. Jeane Kirkpatrick said they were political activists. Alexander Haig said they must have tried to run a roadblock. Apparently the perpetrators still have deniers and defenders.


Only an individual ignorant of the history of US interventions, incapable of using Google and Wikipedia, and unqualified for a high school debate team would say 'give us a list.'

curmudgeonly troll December 1, 2015 at 9:40 pm

32 years ago today, 3 nuns were raped and murdered.

That is interesting but it does nothing to advance your case as there is zero evidence that the US trained and funded the alleged death squad that did it. Indeed your source says that they were funded by right wing businessmen and landowners.

But again, nothing matters except smearing the Americans, right?

Quit throwing chaff in everyone's face and answer the questions.

Most likely ignorance rather than malice.

Same with the goldbuggery? What an ignorant genius!

Not within his area of expertise. Einstein had some odd ideas on economics.

How about a thread on the Gates proposal?

Yes, but Du Bois was insufficiently pro-transgender, so it's only a matter of time before Du Bois' name must be removed from all honors.

Such is the fate of nearly everybody....reminds me of that UK disc jockey or something who was almost famous, but just before he died he was named in a scandal involving minors and the 'casting couch' (a common problem in the entertainment industry). So for this peccadillo (keep in mind for a kid who is ambitious, the 'casting couch' is an easy ploy to advance their career), the disc jockey's grave overlooking some scenic area was desecrated, and eventually the deceased's family had to remove the coffin, and/or cremate the body, forget which. It's the fate of us all.

Bonus trivia: the most scenic graveyard I've ever seen is near Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, overlooking the south Pacific, and comprised largely of WWI solders.

Not just a DJ, but veteran comedian Jimmy Savile, who was prominent enough to have been knighted. And not the 'casting couch' but pedophelia with prepubescent boys and girls, as well as sexual abuse of adult victims up to the age of 75! All over a period of five decades. Not sure if that constitutes a legit way to "get ahead," and hard to have much sympathy for his poor lonely grave being desecrated. I'm also not sure how this has any damned thing to do with Wilson or du Bois.

So you are a Bill Cosby supporter as well?

Savile was a rapist of not only young actresses but children via his charity work, whose crimes were covered up by the BBC for decades.

You are presumably thinking of John Peel. Who admitted to being fond of young groupies.

Jimmy Savile was not a DJ as such but it was his grave that was desecrated. Even though he was not convicted of a single offense against anyone and in fact there are no particularly credible allegations against him. But he was weird so he must be guilty, right?

'he was born in Virginia, and he was long president of a college which did not admit Negro students'

UVA? VMI? Washington & Lee? William and Mary? So many to choose from, after all.

He was president of Princeton.

What can you say about a man who dropped TR and the progressives over not being pandered to and then worked to elect Wilson, and a party that was dominated by the very people who instituted Jim Crow.

DuBois was a horrible judge of character and a terrible strategic thinker in 1912, you have to give the man credit for consistency. He was still justifying this crap in 1956 too.

Did Presbyterianism and Calvinism influence Wilson's views on race? Wilson was a descendant of Presbyterian ministers, his grandfather (who resided in Ohio) an opponent of slavery but his father (who resided in the south, the deep south (Augusta)) was a defender of slavery (and owner of slaves). How could a minister support slavery (and own slaves)? Calvinism teaches that God and God alone has chosen from eternity those who will receive God's mercy (grace), and that Jesus's atonement (suffering) was only for the chosen. It wouldn't be a great leap to conclude that God had not chosen the black race. [Disclosure: I am the great grandson of a Presbyterian minister, but I was not raised in the Presbyterian Church (or Calvinism). By some accounts, however, I am the beneficiary of a generational blessing for my great grandfather's works.] While this may seem preposterous in today's relatively secular age, not so in Wilson's age.

How could a minister support slavery (and own slaves)?

Did he treat his slaves badly?

Of course, another son of Presbyterian ministers, Aaron Burr, was one of the most vehement anti-slavery voices among the Founders. Even his rival Alexander Hamilton was a lapsed Presbyterian (as many Scottish immigrants were) and also opposed slavery.

We could also point to examples on the other side - George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Witherspoon were all ministers of the Calvinist variety, and all approved of slavery in the ideal New Testament way of slaves being included in families (and they sometimes spoke out against its abuses in its current form). And certainly the very non-Calvinist John Wesley was at the forefront of the abolition movement in England. I'm not sure if it's correlation or causation - there was also a flourishing of Calvinist faith in the (pro-slavery) 18th century and a relative diminution in the (abolitionist) 19th century. I can't even think of many famous Presbyterians from the 19th century, actually.

Burr was Edwards's grandson...

Shouldn't we expect that someone, especially an intelligent man, who had studied Marx, to also have 'well worked-out views on Mill and Ricardo'? Marxists, at least in the West, are among the most informed on Marx's predecessors. Why would some level of Marxist or Smithian or Hayekian or whoever 'sympathies' prevent someone from educating themselves and forming an opinion on other avenues of thought?

I have found that people with "sympathies" often have no interest in educating themselves about people and ideas that they think are wrong. There are only 24 hours in a day and so many better things you can do than studying STUFF THAT'S WRONG.

I want to focus on Wilson, not du Bois.

I think Wilson was the worst president of the 20th century. BLM is focused on the fact that Wilson was a racist and a segregationist and had no problem with Jim Crow. Why stop there?

Why don't we talk about Wilson getting the US involved in a pointless war between European Empires, leaving over 100,000 young Americans dead (on a population one-third of current levels, meaning the equivalent today would be 300,000 dead). Yes, Germany declared war on the US, but that was because the US did not remain neutral but backed UK and France. His intervention likely placed a role in spreading the terrible Spanish flu. And US entry into the war likely delayed a peace agreement because the allies decided that they could fight longer with US support.

Having botched the war, he botched the peace. He used the considerable influence he had at the peace table to establish a "League of Nations." He was truly an academic; he read too much Kant. To evaluate his performance, read Keynes' "The Economic Consequences of the Peace," which rips Wilson. The peace agreement violated every plank of his "Fourteen Points," and set the stage for another war.

We could talk about his contempt for the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, as expressed in his "progressive" ideology on political science. His contempt for freedom is striking. He imprisoned many for doing nothing more than opposing US entry into the war or opposing the draft. He pushed through the authoritarian Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which imposed censorship. (Mind you, he ran his reelection campaign on "he kept us out of the war." The US went to war soon after his inauguration.) Included in that list is socialist Eugene Debbs. Imagine that George Bush had imprisoned Bernie Sanders for opposing the war in Iraq. We might review the notorious "Palmer Raids" conducted by his attorney general after the war. (Joe McCarthy was an amateur compared to Wilson and Palmer.)

Let's not forget the wonders of Prohibition, started as war measure. War is truly the health of the state.

He also militarily intervened in Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, and countries in Central America. And in Russia also.

Oh, and let's not forget he gave us the personal income tax, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Reserve.

I would be happy to drop Wilson from all honors. He is part of our history and must be studied, but there is no reason to name anything after him. If Princeton wants to honor a president, I suggest they name the school after Nixon. Nixon didn't get America into a war, he got us out of one. And Nixon wasn't a segregationist, he gave us affirmative action programs.

"he gave us affirmative action programs": no doubt he meant well, but they are just another form of racial discrimination, aren't they?

From what I have read, racism was the norm in the early 20th century. Was Wilson any different?

As president, he aggressively extended segregation: https://reason.com/archives/2002/12/18/dixiecrats-triumphant

From what I have read, racism was the norm in the early 20th century. Was Wilson any different?

You're question only makes sense in a mental world wherein people's viewpoints on race are considered to be dichotomous: raaaaacist or otherwise. That sort of stupidity is ambient as we speak, but we should not subscribe to it. Wilson had no Southern accent and spent the bulk of his adult life living and working in New Jersey. He also fancied that the idiot spawn of Southern caste attitudes should be extended to federal office buildings and induced a wave of firings among black federal employees. This was quite abnormal in the northern United States. In the north, blacks tended to live in discrete neighborhoods, miscegenation was rare, and blacks were very seldom if ever appointed to supervisory or managerial positions where they'd have authority over whites; other features congruent with Southern caste attitudes were largely absent.

In the South, the seamier and uglier aspects of the caste system were quite variable in their presentation. Read Ann Wortham on her education as a student at a black college ca. 1960. She met a great many students from the Deep South who were vary angry; she said she could empathize with that to some degree but not feel it herself because she'd grown up in Tennessee where race relations had quite different properties. My mother discovered the same from a different direction a decade earlier in the table talk of a school mate from North Carolina, table talk which incorporated an appalling latent violence she'd never heard out of her father, uncle, or grandparents (all the issue of prominent Confederate families in East Tennessee). The population of 'racists' in 1938 was considerably larger than the population of those who took white supremacy for granted, which in turn was larger than the population of people who had it in for blacks.

As Virginia Postrel's comment links to, Wilson was not just a man with racist views, he took overt and unnecessary actions to advance segregation across the wider United States via his segregation of the federal workforce and military.

It is being lost in this era of thought crimes, but under classical liberalism, having poor opinions of groups, just as believing in your choice of religious practice, is an individual choice. However, once you seek to interfere with the liberty of others based on your poor opinions, especially, when not a personal interaction, that is intolerance and is to not be tolerated. Wilson overt actions to interfere with the liberties of African-Americans when he removed them from offices they were qualified for, denied them full access to facilities based on their race, and imposed laws and regulations to prevent others who did not share his views from interactions with African-Americans as they chose.

"...Woodrow Wilson is a cultivated scholar and he has brains… "

Falling for the old, "he's an intellectual" does not reveal brilliance. But from the excerpts, one wonders if this is where the Black community's abused spouse relationship with the Democratic Party began.

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