MIDDLETOWN, CT (WFSB) – A debate over a president has a local town split.
Middletown is building a new middle school, but former President Woodrow Wilson’s name might not be attached.
Some in town say he has a racist past.
During a meeting on Wednesday evening, a passionate debate ensued. Some want to keep the legacy, but others say it’s time to create a new one.
Historians say Woodrow Wilson brought American the 8-hour workday, the Federal Reserve, and workman’s comp, but also in his presidency, Washington D.C. and the federal government were racially segregated.
“Woodrow Wilson didn’t invent segregation, but he certainly institutionalized it in the government offices in Washington D.C., which in effect sanctioned segregation throughout the country,” said A. Scott Berg, Wilson biographer.
Looking deeper, Wilson wrote “A History of the American People,” which critics say sided with the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, Wilson has a couple schools named in his honor.
There’s one in Waterbury and another in Middletown.
“It really shows how we just glaze over actual things that happened,” said Evan Davis, Woodrow Wilson graduate.
In days, ground will be broken on a brand new $87 million middle school that will combine Woodrow Wilson and Keigwin Middle Schools.
At a meeting, the community had a civil discussion about carrying on the Wilson name when it comes to this project.
“It was our school. We were proud of our friends, our activities. We’ll all be Wildcats until the day we die,” said Barbra Novak, 1963 graduate.
Wilson does have a connection to Middletown. In the late 1800s, he taught history and political economy at Wesleyan University.
“History is history, you can’t rewrite it. It’s just important to keep the legacy. There are many good families in this town, black, white, many ethnicities and we’re all just friends and alumni of Woodrow Wilson.” Novak said.
Channel 3 confirmed Wilson’s past is not taught at the middle school level, but is brought up during high school. Students say with a new building, it’s time to create a new legacy.
“This stands more as a symbol of sticking to traditions and keeping the systemic racism that we are still trying to work past today,” Davis said.
A lot of alternative names were brought up during the meeting, but one idea catching on is to name the school something like Middletown Middle School or Middletown Junior High.
A committee will send its recommendation to the Board of Education by September.