Who’s Lying?

I finished cataloging my box. It took about twelve hours, and while I didn’t get bored of straight data migration, I was excited my next task involved reading scans of Library of Congress documents on the Wilson administration and segregation. I’m still cataloging, but I have to read most of the documents in order give each a brief description, and in some cases, to determine how it relates to the other documents in its group.

I’m trying to keep an open mind and avoid characterizing any of the people as “good” or “bad” because I feel that would make it harder to report on what happened in the online exhibit I’ll be working on later in the semester. Still, there are three particular letter-writers who I cannot help but mentally label “sordid.” As I read the letters to Wilson supporting/protesting segregation, I’m at a loss for who to believe.

A proponent of segregation in Congress said its express purpose was to strip political power from African Americans and lamented that they were ever given voting rights.

Wilson said segregation was not put in place to harm African-Americans, but to make both races happier and eliminate inter-racial friction.

One young white woman testified before Congress in favor of racial segregation saying awful things about her African-American supervisor. My knee-jerk reaction was to believe she was a racist who fabricated her testimony. But there’s also the possibility that her supervisor really was discriminating against her.

Some letters don’t make any sense to me, like the letter from an African-American constituent praising Wilson’s support of segregation and calling it “natural” and “just”. But maybe the writer could articulate a logical (albeit controversial) rationale for supporting segregation, even though I cannot imagine what it could be.

This is my first project doing historical research and the take away is that history is way muddier than I expected. But that’s part of what makes it exciting— and real. I’m finding five perspectives when I thought there’d be two, and it’s fascinating me.



Author: Althea Cupo

I’m Althea Cupo, a Museum Studies MA student at Johns Hopkins University, and I’m interning in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (WWPL)'s archives from August 29th through early November. My task for the semester is to create finding aids for the papers in "Woodrow Wilson and Segregation Box 1" and curate a digital exhibition based on the information in the box. I’m very excited because I eventually hope to start a museums consulting firm dedicated to equitably presenting controversial history and this is a chance to test out my personal theories.