Understanding history and the world is an evolutionary process. History is not cast in stone, an eternal monument to truth. When more is learned and understood, the accuracy of our perception of history improves.
Perhaps when Woodrow Wilson Primary School was constructed and named, the significance of the name was not understood. But now it is. Now Woodrow Wilson is recognized as a racist, segregationist and advocate of the Ku Klux Klan, and his name is being removed from buildings around the country.
The Peoria Public School Board should do the same posthaste.
Once a mistake is recognized, it’s got to be corrected, not justified in a flawed defense of history. “Historical malfeasance, a lie by omission,” is what New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called that kind of defense of history.
When Landrieu was growing up, he walked past the Confederate monuments standing sentry throughout New Orleans, never hearing their “dog whistle” of racism. Once the significance was explained to him, he took action.
He said, “To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.”
President George W. Bush spoke at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture and said, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
The decision in Peoria to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from a school building is recognizing a mistake and correcting it. We can’t defend racism.
One board member justified his opposition to changing the name by contending 90 percent of comments he received oppose the change. That has no bearing on this decision. We don’t put racism up for a popularity vote. If 90 percent of comments are in opposition, that indicates our teaching about race, diversity and history is inadequate. If we want a future, we need to recognize, study and analyze our toxic history of institutional racism in this country. The alternative is to perpetually be locked in divisiveness and violence.
Student enrollment in Peoria Public Schools is nearly 60 percent African American. Should children be forced to enter a school named in honor of a racist advocate of the Klan and then recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem?
School Board: give us a unanimous vote to change the name of Woodrow Wilson Primary School and help us move forward as a community. The alternative is a bad omen for our community. (Clare Howard)