LSU agrees to strip segregationist’s name from library

Published 2:07 pm Friday, June 19, 2020

Louisiana State University’s governing board agreed Friday to remove the name of a segregationist former president from the campus’ main library, making the decision on the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people.

The name of Troy H. Middleton, LSU president from 1951 until 1962, will be stripped off the building that stands in the center of the Baton Rouge university, after the unanimous action of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Middleton, in news reports and letters from his time as president, described his belief in racial segregation and said he didn’t want black students on campus, but was required to allow them under court order.

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“A name on a building is more than a name. It is a symbol. Symbols tell us who the important people are and are not. Symbols reenforce the aspects of the culture that are considered worthy or not. Troy H. Middleton believed black people were not important or worthy,” said Katrina Dunn, president of the LSU A.P. Tureaud Sr. Black Alumni Chapter.

She added: “This is not an erasure of history. It is a reckoning.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged the Board of Supervisors to take Middleton’s name off the library, saying the state and country need to “confront the ugly realities of the past.”

“In 2020 and going forward, LSU students shouldn’t be studying in a library named after someone who didn’t want them to be LSU students,” the Democratic governor said.

Edwards spoke Friday at the board meeting, which was held through a video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. He told board members: “I want to unequivocally state that black lives matter and black students matter.”

LSU interim President Tom Galligan recommended the name removal after meetings with black student leaders, who raised concerns about inequality and the lack of diversity on campus. Galligan also committed to increase hiring of African American faculty and staff, recruitment of students of color and funding for minority programs.

Middleton’s family objected to the removal of their ancestor’s name from the library building. They were represented at Friday’s meeting by Woody Jenkins, a former state lawmaker and chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party.

Jenkins cited Middleton’s long military record in World War I and World War II, reaching the rank of lieutenant general. Jenkins said Middleton, who died in 1976, worked on integration efforts after his tenure at LSU.

“To pull out one or two comments from the 1950s and 60s does not tell the story of Troy Middleton,” Jenkins said. He told the board: “With Troy Middleton, there’s so much to be proud of.”

Board member James Williams, an African American, said he “physically gagged” as he read some of Middleton’s segregationist words. He said the University of Alabama has taken down Confederate plaques, and Mississippi universities are calling on the state to eliminate the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.

“Now, it’s LSU’s turn,” Williams said.

Board member Robert Dampf, who is white, called the decision “an easy vote to cast.”

“While I’m sorry for the pain, obviously, that the Middleton family has felt, there’s not an equivalency in my view for the pain suffered by my black friends and our black students,” he said.

After the vote, Board of Supervisors Chair Mary Werner announced the board intends to create a new committee that will focus on equity.

“We must continue the hard conversations,” she said.