From a letter to University of Texas chancellor Harry Ransom, dated Oct. 27 1961: “Though we did not like it, we accepted Negroes as students.”
Such is the unsettling legacy of famed desegregation-era LSU president Troy H. Middleton, the unfortunate namesake behind the central library on campus.
Members of the black community at the University have long sought to have the library renamed, and the Middleton issue seems to have attracted an unprecedented amount of attention due to the recent phenomenon of increased social awareness surrounding the many forms of institutional racism in the United States.
University officials recently met with a group of black student leaders to discuss the hateful heritage of Troy H. Middleton Library - among other concerns of racial injustice on campus - announcing afterward that the library would be renamed with all due velocity pending approval from the University’s Board of Supervisors.
Though Middleton did ultimately adhere to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on Brown v. The Board of Education, which effectively outlawed racial segregation in public schools in the U.S., he maintained segregationist attitudes throughout his eleven year tenure as president, stating also in the letter, “At no time has a Negro occupied a room with a white student.”
While Middleton accepted black students into the University for the first time in LSU's history, he never allowed them to fully integrate into the environment. Middleton’s system of social segregation on campus was profoundly isolating for these students and provided them with almost no chance of upward social mobility as they were commonly shunned by their white peers and excluded from many non-academic aspects of college life like campus organizations and student athletics.
Middleton finally retired in 1961 at age 72, eight years after the University first opened its doors to black undergraduate students. By that time the Civil Rights Movement was well in its heyday; the Freedom Riders were making their way along the interstate down South; protest groups were successfully staging demonstrations across the country; the March on Washington, famous for hosting Martin Luther King Jr’s pivotal “I Have a Dream” speech, was still to come, and LSU’s segregationist president was beginning to seem more and more a relic of the past.
It was time for him to go. Now, it’s time for us to let go of him.
If the administration wishes to propel itself into the future it can no longer continue to carry on the memory of Middleton, whose career was defined by harmful transgressions against the black community. He impeded countless black lives and careers in his time as president of the University.
This is not Middleton’s LSU anymore. His name doesn’t belong in a place, surrounded by diverse, compassionate and forward-thinking individuals; what the building represents is a disgrace to the University as well as an outright insult to its black students. He doesn’t deserve to be honored through the library as he has been for the past forty years. There is no honor in prejudice.
As for what the library’s new name should be, I believe it’s only fitting that the University should take the opportunity to uplift one of its many distinguished black alumni in place of the ex-president. That would be a start. A new, better beginning.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.