Long before the building on campus took his name, A.P. Tureaud Jr. took his first steps on the University’s campus as the first African-American student admitted to the University.
In an era where the Louisiana sugarcane industry thrived and Jim Crow played Big Brother, Tureaud combatted racism and the hardships associated with it on a regular basis.
LSU Libraries welcomed Tureaud to Hill Memorial Library as part of its “Lunch with a Legend” series Tuesday. The event was sponsored by the African and African American Studies program.
He told students about his two-month experience as the first black LSU Tiger.
“I was indeed the unhappiest person that I knew,” Tureaud said.
Tureaud’s father was the attorney for the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP during the civil rights movement. He, along with Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter, filed a lawsuit that would effectively end the Jim Crow system of segregation in Louisiana public universities.
Tureaud said he would carpool with Marshall, Carter and other NAACP leaders around the French Quarter in his run-down Dodge Coup.
“I remember thinking, if I have an accident in this car, it’s the end of the civil rights movement,” Tureaud said.
A.P. Tureaud Sr. and his friends led the charge to integrate public schools in Orleans Parish. This movement spread to higher education across the state.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Tureaud applied to the University for the fall 1953 semester.
Tureaud said he chose the University because he believed it would be the best bang for his buck, and his father had powerful connections in Baton Rouge.
Tureaud also said he thought the inclusion of black graduate students already at the University would help soften the controversy.
“Louisiana was always ahead of the curve in terms of integration for the country,” Tureaud said.
However, despite intrinsic efforts, Tureaud faced severe racial discrimination during his time at the University.
Classmates banged on the walls of his dorm room and played loud music to keep him from sleeping. Professors refused to touch his papers.
“My only buddy was Mike the Tiger,” he said. “We were both prisoners.”
A mistrial in the court decision that admitted Tureaud into the University caused him to pack his bags and move back to New Orleans.
Tureaud resigned from the University after 55 days and would not look back for another 35 years.
He pursued an undergraduate degree in education from Xavier University in New Orleans instead. Tureaud went on to work as the director of special education for the White Plains School District in New York for more than 25 years, helping outside students like himself.
“I became an advocate for [special needs students],” Tureaud said.
The A.P. Tureaud, Sr., Black Alumni Chapter was formed in 1988 to stimulate alumni involvement within the African American community at the University. The Chapter’s founders called Tureaud and asked him to come back to his alma mater and speak on their behalf.
Though initially hesitant, Tureaud said he was glad he returned.
“I cried the first time I came back ... It was so intrinsic,” he said.
Tureaud was commemorated with his namesake hall in 1988. The University also gave him an honorary doctorate in 2011.
Tureaud said his own grandchildren graduated from the University.
“And they wear their LSU T-shirts with pride,” he said.