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Open Letter re Witherspoon Symposium Video and Other Matters
Let’s get the word out!
May 8, 2023
Professor Angela N.H. Creager
Chair, CPUC Committee on Naming
Christopher L. Eisgruber ‘83
President, Princeton University
Re: Witherspoon Symposium Video and Other Matters
Dear Prof. Creager and President Eisgruber,
I acknowledge Prof. Creager’s reply to me of May 3, in the email string below.
Next, thank you for your respective services to Princeton! You each now carry out duties that entail working within the Princeton community on matters that are important, difficult, and – yes – at times contentious. You each are tasked with certain decisions that almost inevitably entail partisan advocacy and criticism, both before and after. For what it’s worth, I see each of you – Teddy Roosevelt rephrased – as Princeton’s champion in the ring. I pause to take note of what the referenced quote says of critics, and proceed to wish you great success for Princeton in your worthy endeavors.
I now ask your consideration of my following advocacy.
In note Prof. Creager’s kind heads–up to me of May 3 (below) that “There is no plan to make the video [of the April 21 Witherspoon Symposium] public at this time.” Please let me here ask you each for your support in persuading whoever controls the full videos of that symposium – “John Witherspoon in Historical Context” – to change their minds and publish them. The April 12 email announcement and invitation for this symposium advised, “A recording of the event will be made available on the naming committee’s website for those who are unable to attend.”
I think it highly advisable that people interested in the future of the Witherspoon statue that is the subject of the Committee on Naming’s efforts should have available to them the best and most recent evidence and informed understanding of the historical Witherspoon’s relation to slavery. Similarly, in a related matter, I ask that each of you encourage the Princeton & Slavery Project to update its depiction of Witherspoon as utterly soon as practicable.
Back to the videos. I’ve said elsewhere and I say here again, I found the Witherspoon Symposium in all its respects an example of Princeton at its best. Let’s get this word out! Incidentally, I wish the Daily Princetonian had reported on this event. The Princeton Tory has provided coverage, and I understand the PAW will be doing so as well. The PAW even sent a photographer to the event.
And speaking of the news coverage, I note the Prince's article of discussion on Witherspoon matters at last week’s CPUC meeting. Had circumstances permitted the Prince before publishing this story to contact me for comment, the Prince could have served its readership better. For those so interested, I now provide links to my Princeton Tory opinion and related Princetonians for Free Speech editorial that were subjects of concern at the CPUC meeting. A development of an up-to-date and authoritative historical record on Witherspoon’s relation to slavery would seem to be a better basis upon which to have public commentary – and ultimately – a University decision as to what to do with Witherspoon’s statue. In an ideal world, it might also promote less “polarization.”
The Witherspoon Symposium videos, I might add, could shed light on my participation at the event. If my conduct at the Symposium was boorish or worse, I apologize to all. The videos could both help others judge whether this was the case and guide me in regard to participation at future such events.
Let me further state that I am in sympathy with Prof. Creager’s reported concerns regarding public discourse on the Witherspoon issues. And I share President Eisgruber’s broader desires that our exercise of free speech at Princeton serve the University and each other well. I seek to contribute to these ends.
Just recently I separately placed before the CPUC my concerns that two individuals – Joshua Katz and John Witherspoon – were neither truthfully – nor in a manner consistent with Princeton’s Rights, Rules, Responsibilities – depicted on respective University websites. I believe that the CPUC is a proper place to raise such concerns. I’m open to suggestion and guidance on this.
That said, I invite prompt and open inquiry into these two matters. As the great Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis observed, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
Further, I have separately published a short piece to offer a manner by which the CPUC could further the ends of truth and reconciliation on such matters as I have placed before the CPUC. And you may be interested to know as well, I have no plans to bring such additional matters before the CPUC.
By the way, I’ll return to Princeton a day before the start of Reunions this year and depart a day after the end. It’s a terribly busy time, but should either of you come to have the interest and ability to meet, I’d welcome making myself available.
Finally, please indulge me as I close on lighter notes.
The article in the Prince I referred to above also mentioned that the Committee on Naming shortly will decide on whom to honor with names to rooms in the recently restored Prospect House. I now submit two names for the Committee’s consideration. The first is the prominent British opponent of the Atlantic Slave Trade, John Newton. The second is that of the Great Emancipator himself – Abraham Lincoln. Princeton had the foresight to award each of them during their lives honorary degrees. And if the right room is chosen for the latter, then Princeton will have its very own Lincoln Bedroom.
And to Prof. Creager. In my initial email to you I perhaps overstepped the bounds of propriety by addressing you by your first name. I note that despite my closing that email with my first name, you in your reply addressed me as “Mr. Hewitt.” I now offer you an option of intermediate formality. Particularly in light of the words I invoked above of Justice Brandeis, you may call me – should you prefer – “Mr. Sunshine.”
Best wishes to you both in your endeavors!
Princeton Class of ‘74
Begin forwarded message:
From: "Angela N. Creager" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Witherspoon Symposium & Videos
Date: May 3, 2023 at 8:18:36 PM EDT
To: Bill Hewitt <email@example.com>
Dear Mr. Hewitt,
Thank you for your kind words regarding the Witherspoon Symposium. There is no plan to make the video public at this time. However, several media outlets, including the PAW, are preparing articles which will provide information to interested parties.
Best wishes, Angela Creager
Angela N. H. Creager (she/her)
Thomas M. Siebel Professor in the History of Science
Chair, Department of History, Princeton University, 2020–24
129 Dickinson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544Office hours, fall 2022: https://calendly.com/anhcreager/30min
On May 2, 2023, at 1:21 PM, Bill Hewitt <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Please pardon my delay in writing to thank and congratulate you for April 21st’s well conceived and wonderfully executed “John Witherspoon in Historical Context.”
As a Princeton alum of some 49 years, I have my share of concerns regarding Princeton and its future. You should know that your excellent presenters at the Symposium provided valuable insight into the real John Witherspoon and the challenges of his time. Now all interested in this important part of Princeton’s history can benefit from a better measure of Witherspoon on slavery. Moreover, I find the manner in which you and all participants in the Symposium conducted themselves to be completely admirable. The topics covered quite naturally can bring forth understandable passions, by presenters and audience alike. What had the potential in some respects to become a train wreck, instead proved to be Princeton at its best. I take decided hope from that shining and exemplary facet of Princeton your Symposium shows all who would see. I tell these things to all who might be interested. Should it serve your purposes, you are welcome to quote me in these remarks.
I further thank you personally for the gentle and effective manner by which you probed my intentions before the beginning of the Symposium and, further, for your simple and disarming aside to me during your opening remarks, “Please don’t record this.” I had intended to take video of parts of the Symposium so that I might have ready access after the Symposium to what was said. Your heartfelt request made me realize that such a use of my phone could have an inhibiting effect on the presenters. This would have diss-served everyone’s interests. You did well for us all in getting me to put away that phone.
In closing, I inquire about the videos taken of the full program. I understand from the invitation email for the event and your remarks during the Symposium that they will be posted online. To the extent now and later you can apprise me of estimates as to when they will be publicly posted, I would appreciate it. I know several Princetonians interested in seeing this program.
If I might be of assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Best wishes in all your endeavors!
<Best Wishes - Bill.jpeg>
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