Former LSU president and World War I veteran Troy H. Middleton, known by students today as the namesake of the LSU Middleton Library, fought to keep a segregated campus during his presidential tenure.
In 1956, Middleton presented a formal report titled “LSU and Segregation” to the Board of Supervisors, six years after the first black student was admitted to the University. Middleton wanted to review “the Negro situation” the University was in.
“[The University] has [admitted black students] reluctantly, under court order,” Middleton said in the report. “While there are some 117 Negroes enrolled at LSU, the historic policy of the University is not to admit Negroes. It is unlikely that there will be any change in this policy.”
The Supreme Court’s Gaines v. Canada verdict in 1938 ordered black people to have the same rights as white people on a separate-but-equal basis. But the University managed to keep black students out until a court order forced them to admit black students in 1950.
Middleton became University president in 1951. Although he had no part in enforcing the Gaines v. Canada verdict, he recalled that in the formal report before his time as University president, the University had been continuously losing court battles about school segregation, despite hiring “the state’s best legal minds” since 1946.
The University tried to make strides in offering black students an equal education in a document written to the public in 1945.
“There is no dodging the fact that so long as the state of Louisiana makes no provision [whatsoever] for Negro education beyond the bachelor’s degree, Negro students who wish to pursue their studies further are legally entitled as American citizens to utilize the facilities of Louisiana State University,” the document stated.
Next year, in 1946, the University helped kickstart a law school at Southern University for black students after the concern of the impending fallout of segregation. The University would provide professors and resources for several semesters as Southern got on its feet.
Even when LSU was ordered to admit black students, it is debatable whether the University provided equal resources to these students. Of the 633 black students enrolled in 1950, only 7 percent graduated. Thirty-nine students received a graduate degree, two received a law degree and one received a social welfare degree.
During his tenure, Middleton was popular among staff, donors and some students. A rule was set for a forced retirement once a president turned 70, which would have ended his tenure in 1959. The Alumni Council waived the rule to let him remain as president until he retired in 1962.
Middleton passed away in 1976. The University’s library was named after Middleton in 1978.
For the people aware of Middleton’s history, there have been questions regarding whether he should have his name on the University’s main library, which is in the works to be torn down.
“If that building was going to stay there in perpetuity, I would say go fight and get his name taken off the building, but everyone on this campus wants to tear it down anyways,” said mass communication professor Robert Mann.
Currently, the only building on campus named after an African American is Tureaud Hall.
Mann said he’s heard that Middleton may have shifted his philosophy and been more open later in his career to accept black students at the University, but no documentation has been found.