Exquisite Wlliams did not have much hope that her June 6 petition to remove Troy H. Middleton’s name from LSU’s main library would accomplish anything. Middleton served as LSU president from 1951 to 1962 and, even as the civil rights movement pushed the country forward, he remained a staunch advocate for segregationist policies.
“We were feeling really discouraged. We were like, ‘It’s never gonna happen. It’s never gonna happen. LSU doesn’t care about their Black students,’” said Williams.
But on June 19, 13 days and 13,000 signatures later, the 11 members of LSU’s Board of Supervisors who participated in a virtual board meeting voted unanimously to take Troy Middleton’s name off the Louisiana State University library. A work crew immediately removed Middleton’s name.
“History will not be erased. It is well-documented,” Mary Werner, the LSU Board of Supervisors chairwoman said in a news release after the board’s vote. “But today we can change the mission that is LSU by welcoming every student, young and old, black and white, any nationality.” Werner’s statement said removing Middleton’s name would send a signal to all students “that they are welcomed” and that “their work here is valued and respected.”
According to the news release, “The University Naming Committee considered all of the factors pertaining to Middleton and acknowledged his stellar military career and service to LSU. However, the committee voted to remove the name of Middleton from the library based on his efforts to deny Black American citizens from enjoying the equal rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Responding to Friday’s vote, Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement, “LSU students shouldn’t be asked to study in a library named for someone who didn’t want them to be LSU students. We can do better. We can be better.”
But in a June 17 op-ed published by The Advocate, Troy H. Middleton IV, a Lake Charles attorney, said Edwards and the LSU board had tarnished his great-grandfather’s name and legacy. After he served as LSU president, Middleton chaired Gov. John McKeithen’s Biracial Commission on Human Relations, Rights, and Responsibilities which was given the responsibility to promote statewide enforcement of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
According to the great-grandson, Middleton was praised by Albert Dent, then the president of historically-Black Dillard University, who said, “If ever a man changed, that man was Troy Middleton.”
Williams, a member of the LSU Student Government Black Caucus and BlackOut LSU, a coalition of Black student leaders and advocates, worked with LSU friends Kendall Di lulio and Kalvin Morris to create and post the petition. In addition to requesting the removal of Middleton’s name, the petition calls for the library to be renamed for Pinkie Gordon Lane, an acclaimed poet who was the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from LSU.
But Friday’s vote only removed Middleton’s name from the library; it didn’t add anyone’s.
Thus, Williams’ petition remains active, and it will remain active, she said, until it’s LSU’s Pinkie Gordon Lane Library. Even so, Williams said she was pleasantly surprised that Middleton’s name was removed. LSU has a long history of not protecting its black students, she said.
A.P. Tureaud Jr., the son of one of Louisiana’s most prominent civil rights attorneys, is painfully familiar with that history. Tureaud enrolled at LSU in 1953 — becoming the school’s first and, at that time, only black undergraduate student. “President Middleton, the Board of Supervisors, faculty and students were unrelenting in their response to my presence on campus,” Tureaud said.
Tureaud added that “Middleton made it clear” that he was not welcome and “did nothing to address the racist behavior that I experienced daily. He was very bold in sharing his disdain for black students at LSU. Removal of his name from the LSU library is long overdue.”
Lawyers working for LSU worked to kick Tureaud off campus, and he was forced out of the university 55 days after he arrived. He completed his collegiate career at Xavier University, another historically-Black campus in New Orleans.
Alaysia Johnson, the president of the LSU Black Caucus and chairwoman of the Black Women’s Empowerment Initiative, said the removal of Middleton’s name is a first step, but only that. “I’m really hoping they didn’t just do it to keep us quiet for now,” Johnson said.
Williams has endorsed another petition — created by LSU’s Democracy at Work — to rename 12 more buildings she says honors racists and, as of June 22, that petition had 3,517 names.
“There is no name safe on any building,” she said. “Especially if that name stood for racist ideologies and white supremacy. No, their name is not safe. And we will get to them. We got to go one step at a time here.”