The People's Experience: African-Americans

In the campaign of 1912, Wilson promised African-Americans “not more grudging justice but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling” ("The Presidential Campaign", The Crisis 12 [Oct 1916]: 268).  African-Americans organized politically into several groups during this time period; one leading group, growing out of the Niagara Movement (pictured at top right, 1909), was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1916, leading civil rights activist and Director of Publications and Research for the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois wrote to Wilson that after four years of his administration, African Americans were left “but with indifferent choice” for a presidential candidate due to Wilson's racial policies.

Wilson permitted segregation in federal offices soon after becoming president, treating it, he said, not as an instrument of humiliation, but as a means to ease racial tensions.  Dubois and likeminded thinkers disagreed heartily with Wilson's choice, petitioning repeatedly for the suspension of the practice.  Wilson refused. 

Civil rights groups regularly lobbied the federal government for action against the injustices faced daily by African-Americans in the South (at bottom is a poster appearing in The Crisis, magazine of the NAACP).  Curtailment of voting rights, the entrenchment of Jim Crow segregation, and the threats of extralegal violent reprisal and lynching for breaking racial norms were common and tolerated threats posed against African-Americans at this time.  Wilson took no action against such practices.  African-American leadership admitted that Wilson's liberal legislation record in regards to labor and some other concerns was admirable, but insisted that Wilson was representative of the racist South.

The Republican candidate Hughes offered no better alternative to African-Americans, except that, as a Republican, he represented the party of emancipation.  He had no special civil rights record and did not offer one during the course of the campaign.  In the end, most African-American leadership (including the Crisis, magazine of the NAACP) recommended Allan Louis Benson, a Socialist candidate, or not voting at all.  It is likely that many blacks who were able to vote did so  for Hughes, as a result of longstanding loyalty to the party of Lincoln.

Click here to read about The People's Experience: Women.

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did you know?

Wilson was president throughout World War I. He attempted to keep America out of the war and even won reelection with the slogan "He kept us out of war." Nonetheless, after the sinking of the Lusitania, continued run-ins with German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, America became involved. with the Lusitania, the continued harassment of American ships by German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram meant that America joined the allies in April, 1917.

Woodrow Wilson was President when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

Wilson piloted the ship that brought America onto the world stage. He made the first steps of leading us out of isolationism, violating Washington's tenet of avoiding foreign entanglements.

He led America during World War I. His fervent hope was for the US to join a League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "Life does not consist in thinking, it consists in acting."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "The Constitution was not made to fit us like a straitjacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being."

The Seventeenth Amendment was formally adopted on May 31, 1913. Wilson had been president for almost three months at the time. The amendment provided for the direct election of senators. Prior to its adoption, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

Wilson was the first president to receive a PhD which he got in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. He had received his undergraduate degree from the College of New Jersey, renamed Princeton University in 1896.

Woodrow Wilson could not read during the first decade of his life. Though undiagnosed, he may have suffered from a learning disability

Woodrow Wilson was known as "Tommy" until his college years.

Woodrow Wilson during his boyhood, helped establish the "Lightfoot Baseball Club" with his friends. Wilson played second base and was an avid sport fan throughout his adult life.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to attend the Major League Baseball Fall Classic. He saw the debut of a young 20 year old pitcher by the name of George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Woodrow Wilson was a graduate of Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University and the only president to hold an earned doctoral degree.

Woodrow Wilson image is on the $100,000 bill although it is no longer in circulation