When New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted a picture of him observing a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd earlier this month, people were quick to point out that he was doing it from behind a desk that was engraved with the name of Woodrow Wilson.
Some found the image ironic because Murphy was remembering the unjust death of a Black man while sitting at a desk that once belonged to Wilson, a former New Jersey governor and US president who defended segregation and slavery.
Now, Murphy has ditched the piece of office furniture, which he said he forgot had a plaque on the front of it that read “Woodrow Wilson’s Desk.”
“As soon as I could get a replacement, which was not as easy as I thought, I got one and I think that was the right thing to do,” Murphy said during a news conference on Monday.
The country is having a “reckoning,” Murphy said, and “Woodrow Wilson and his legacy is being swept up in that as it should be.”
Wilson, who was the country’s 28th president from 1913 to 1921, once called racial segregation a “benefit” and said slaves “were happy and well-cared for.”
When he served as president for Princeton University, from 1902-1910, he denied African American men from being admitted, and sought to exclude them from the school’s history.
Murphy’s decision to switch out his desk comes after Princeton removed Wilson’s name from its school of public policy and a residential college.
“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement this past weekend.
“He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.”
New Jersey’s Monmouth University has also said it will remove Wilson’s name from the campus’s Great Hall. It will look to instead honor its lead designer, Julian Abele, who was one of the first professionally trained African American architects.
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