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College Sit-ins Protesting Schools’ Racist History

(Compiled from press and news reports)


A recent sit-in at Georgetown University pressured university officials to rename two buildings named for slave owners; while a sit-in at Princeton aims to achieve a similar outcome.

One of the two Georgetown buildings is Mulled Hall, a residential dorm named after the Rev. Thomas F. Mulled who authorized the sale of about 272 slaves. The second building, McSherry Hall, is a campus meditation center named after his successor, the Rev. William McSherry who served as an adviser to Mulledy’s slave sale. The number of slaves sold, 272, led to the launch of the Twitter hash tag #GU272.

David Collins, a Georgetown student who participated in the sit-in, told NPR, “One of the things that we’re learning in the United States in general is how much of a connection there is between our institutions of higher learning and slave holding.”

For now, the two Georgetown buildings have new interim names – Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, according to news reports. That’s until Georgetown decides what to call them permanently.

Meanwhile, a recent 32-hour sit-in outside the office of the Princeton University president may pressure the university into changing the name of the Woodwork Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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Black Justice League members have called for the university to both remove Wilson’s name from the international affairs school and his name and photograph from other public spaces on campus.

According to news reports, university officials, as part of a signed agreement with students, said they would consider removing a mural of Wilson on campus, start conversations about his legacy of racism and increase cultural competency training for Princeton faculty.

Wilson graduated from Princeton in 1879 and served as its president from 1902 to 1910 before becoming president of the United States from 1913 until 1921.

“Born in Virginia and raised in Georgia and South Carolina, Wilson was a loyal son of the old South who regretted the outcome of the Civil War,” Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett wrote in a New York Times editorial on June 25. “He used his high office to reverse some of its consequences.”

“When he entered the White House a hundred years ago today, Washington was a rigidly segregated town – except for federal government agencies,”

Barnett continued. “They had been integrated during the post-war Reconstruction period, enabling African-Americans to obtain federal jobs and work side by side with whites in government agencies. Wilson promptly authorized members of his cabinet to reverse this long-standing policy of racial integration in the federal civil service.”

“Cabinet heads – such as his son-in-law, Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo of Tennessee – re-segregated facilities such as restrooms and cafeterias in their buildings. In some federal offices, screens were set up to separate white and Black workers,” Barnett noted. “African-Americans found it difficult to secure high-level civil service positions, which some had held under previous Republican administrations.”

Black professionals including Monroe Trotter, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard and Boston newspaper editor, appeared at the White House to protest the new policies. “But Wilson treated them rudely and declared that “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen,” Barnett said.

About 200 students participated in the sit-in at Princeton.

“We appreciate the willingness of the students to work with us to find a way forward for them, for us and for our community,” Princeton President Chris Eisgruber said in a statement posted on the university website. “We were able to assure them that their concerns would be raised and considered through appropriate processes.”

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At the top of the group’s list was a demand that the university “publicly acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson” and take steps to rename the public policy school and residential college.

Protesters also called for mandatory courses on “the history of marginalized peoples,” for “cultural competency training” for the staff and the faculty and for the creation of dedicated housing and meeting space for those interested in Black culture.

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