Troy H. Middleton’s name will be removed from LSU’s main library, with the LSU Board of Supervisors unanimously approving the measure at its Friday meeting as part of an effort to eliminate racist symbols from campus.
Middleton, who served as president of LSU from 1951 to 1962 and as an infantry officer in both world wars, has been viewed as the face of segregation at the university since the disclosure of a letter he wrote in 1961, saying LSU kept black students separate from white students.
“History will not be erased. It is well-documented,” said board chair Mary Werner. “But today we can change the mission that is LSU by welcoming every student, young and old, black and white, any nationality, that they are welcomed, their comments, their studies, their work here is valued and respected.”
Earlier in the meeting, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged the board to remove Middleton’s name from the library. He was later joined in his remarks by LSU administrators, student body president Stone Cox and black and white board members, as well as Katrina Dunn, president of LSU’s A.P. Tureaud Sr. Black Alumni chapter, who called the move a “reckoning.”
However, the decision was denounced by the Middleton family, who argued the controversial 1961 letter served as an incomplete picture of a man, who later chaired Gov. John McKeithen’s Biracial Commission on Human Relations, Rights and Responsibilities and consequently changed his views on integration.
Speaking on behalf of Middleton’s legacy was former state Rep. Woody Jenkins, who said it was unfair “to pull out one or two comments from the 1950s or early 1960s and not tell the whole story” about Middleton, who Jenkins said would go on to push for the implementation of civil rights law in Louisiana.
Still, board members argued Middleton’s treatment of black students—including what Supervisor James Williams described as his repeated efforts to make clear he didn’t want black students to attend the university—warranted the dissociation of his name from the library.
“We need to preserve history, but we need not honor every historical moment or every historical person,” said Supervisor Jimmie Woods, whose black mother-in-law was barred from eating in LSU’s cafeteria and starting a black sorority under Middleton’s leadership.
Diversity training will be established across all departments at LSU, Werner said. In August, the board will also establish a new standing committee, pending board approval: the Committee on Social Equity, Justice and Inclusion.
Significantly, said LSU interim President Tom Galligan, the item was approved on Juneteenth, which commemorates the freedom of the last enslaved black people in America two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“While it’s cause for celebration,” Galligan said, “let this also be a day of reflection for LSU and our country as we work towards true equality and freedom for all.”
Among other items discussed at Friday’s meeting was the 1.7% budget reduction expected systemwide through fiscal year 2021 as well as LSU’s plans to reopen its campus this fall, which will include classroom occupancy being kept to 50% capacity.