The website of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library reports:
“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. W.E.B. Dubois and like- minded thinkers disagreed heartily with Wilson’s choice, petitioning repeatedly for the suspension of the practice. Wilson refused.”
Wilson refused to suspend segregation. The April 1959 issue of the Journal of Negro History stated:
“When Woodrow Wilson assumed the presidency in 1913 many Negroes believed that he would champion their cause for advancement. An unprecedented number of Negroes had cast their vote for Wilson, ridicule from others of their race for so departing from the ranks of the Republican Party. This deviation from the traditional line of Negro support was nurtured by discontent with the Republican and Progressive candidates, Taft and (Theodore) Roosevelt, and their platforms. It was spurred by the stirring assurances of wholehearted support to the Negro race by Woodrow Wilson.”
“Yet it was in Woodrow Wilson’s administration that the most bitter blow to Negro hopes of advancement fell.”
To repeat, when he was president of Princeton University, Wilson barred blacks from admission. Yet many blacks voted for him anyway, against their own self-interests. Why?
In a society where in many places segregation, discrimination and Jim Crow were legal, black people had hope that things were going to change. NAACP officer W.E.B. Du Bois, also editor of the NAACP publication The Crisis, expressed hopes in Wilson. He wrote to President Wilson in March 1913:
“Sir: Your inauguration to the Presidency of the United States is to the colored people, to the white South and to the nation a momentous occasion. For the first time since the emancipation of slaves the government of this nation — the Presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives — passes on the 4th of March into the hands of the party which a half century ago fought desperately to keep black men as real estate in the eyes of the law.”
“Your elevation to the chief magistracy of the nation at this time shows not simply a splendid national faith in the perpetuity of free government in this land, but even more, a personal faith in you.”
“We black men by our votes helped to put you in your high position. It is true that in your overwhelming triumph at the polls that you might have succeeded without our aid, but the fact remains that our votes helped elect you this time, and that the time may easily come in the near future when without our 500,000 ballots neither you nor your party can control the government.”
“True as this is, we would not be misunderstood. We do not ask or expect special consideration or treatment in return for our franchises. We did not vote for you and your party because you represented our best judgment. It was not because we loved Democrats more, but Republicans less and Roosevelt least, that led to our action… We want to be treated as men. We want to vote. We want our children educated. We want lynching stopped. We want no longer to be herded as cattle on street cars and railroads. We want the right to earn a living, to own our own property and to spend our income unhindered and uncursed. Your power is limited? We know that, but the power of the American people is unlimited. Today you embody that power, you typify its ideals. In the name then of that common country for which your fathers and ours have bled and toiled, be not untrue, President Wilson, to the highest ideals of American Democracy.”
However, just six months after Wilson’s inauguration, Du Bois wrote to Wilson
“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… 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.”
“In the Treasury and Post Office Departments colored clerks have been herded to themselves as though they were not human beings. We are told that one colored clerk who could not actually be segregated on account of the nature of his work has consequently had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions of many years. Mr. Wilson, do you know these things? Are you responsible for them? Did you advise them? Do you not know that no other group of American citizens has ever been treated in this way and that no President of the United States ever dared to propose such treatment? Here is a plain, flat, disgraceful spitting in the face of people whose darkened countenances are already dark with the slime of insult. Do you consent to this, President Wilson? Do you believe in it? Have you been able to persuade yourself that national insult is best for a people struggling into self-respect?”
Did Du Bois and the entire American black voting population have “voter’s remorse”? Does it seem possible that they all thought “What have we done?” It must have pained Du Bois to think about what he wrote to Wilson: “We black men by our votes helped to put you in your high position.” Did Du Bois have mental anguish in thinking that he helped to bring more misery to his own people by supporting Wilson?