The vote was unanimous, and to listen to the speeches as the LSU Board of Supervisors joyously stripped the name of Louisiana’s greatest World War II figure off the school’s main library, this morning’s affair came off as a cross between George Orwell’s Two Minutes’ Hate and the readings of Chairman Mao’s little red book.
General Troy H. Middleton, who ran LSU from 1951 to 1962 after logging more time on the battlefront than any other flag officer in the European Theater, and later won accolades for his work in racial reconciliation on a committee charged with desegregating Louisiana, will no longer be honored by Louisiana’s flagship university.
The debate came a little more than a week after administrators and black student leaders announced the item would be given to the board for consideration. LSU President Thomas Galligan supported the students, who were credited with starting the renewed effort to remove the name from the building.
Troy Middleton, LSU’s president in the 50s and 60s, has been widely recognized as racist in years past after a decades-old letter resurfaced in which he voiced his support of racial segregation.
James Williams, a member of the university’s board, was one of the most vocal in support of the decision to remove the name.
“I read in our archives a letter from General Middleton on May 1, 1956 saying, ‘I do not what negro students in LSU, I believe in segregation of the races, and no matter what may come I shall no associate with negros…'” Williams recalled. “And, without exaggeration, I gagged. I physically gagged.”
Public outcry for the renaming of the library occurred shortly after Drew Dollar, an incoming LSU freshmen, appeared in a viral video that features him using a racial slur against African Americans.
As the video gained notoriety, LSU quickly spoke out to condemn the student’s behavior, but remained silent on whether or not the student had been disciplined or would still be allowed to attend the university.
After meeting with black students and community members regarding LSU’s stance on racist behavior and hate speech, the university announced that Dollar would not be attending classes in the Fall and that based on what was discussed in the recent meeting, they felt it necessary to consider renaming Middleton Library in order to firmly establish the university’s intolerance of racism and prejudice.
The Middleton family, however, spoke out against LSU’s decision to consider a new name for the building, issuing the following statement to The Advocate a day after the announcement:
“General Troy Middleton was an American hero and Louisiana icon. We expressly and unequivocally denounce the university’s dishonorable plan to remove his name and memorials from the very library the funds for which he led the university’s effort to obtain from the state legislature.”
Williams, who earned notoriety as one of the lawyers involved in the Ferguson, Missouri mess and who spread the lie that Michael Brown was running away from the police when he was shot, probably wouldn’t meet the standard of racial harmony he applies to Middleton.
Nor would many of the stunning mediocrities on the LSU Board, most of whom were installed by John Bel Edwards.
There isn’t a whole lot else which needs to be said about this. But we do have two things to toss into the mix.
First of all, a bill to watch in the current legislative session is HB 26, which is a bill being pushed by LSU that would give the state’s public universities freedom to set their own student fees. Meaning, obviously, that LSU is looking to be able to raise those fees at its pleasure without the legislature weighing in.
Normally, a Republican legislature would be expected to sign off on that, figuring the market ought to be able to work its will. Except we were told this morning that HB 26, which is sitting on the House calendar at present waiting for a vote, is a dead letter. It’s going to stay on the calendar. And it’s because of the Board of Supervisors’ vote this morning. The state legislature is absolutely disgusted with LSU at present, we’re told, and there are dark clouds on the horizon where the university’s support at the Capitol is concerned.
Second, an observation: isn’t it amazingly ironic that Louisiana’s voters in 2015 sought to honor the military by electing a Democrat governor in a red state almost solely on the basis that he attended West Point and served in the Army, and by the fifth year that military man was in office, both of Louisiana’s greatest military heroes had seen memorials to their exploits scraped out of public life? When Edwards took office P.G.T. Beauregard was memorialized in a beautiful equestrian statue in a state park and Middleton’s name was on LSU’s main campus library; now both have been unpersoned in a highly divisive and, frankly, thuggish manner.
Think that’s what the people of Louisiana voted for?
UPDATE: Here was the Middleton family’s response…
“The actions taken today by the LSU Board of Supervisors, with the full support of Interim President Galligan and Governor Edwards, are reprehensible. By its actions, the Board has chosen to publically dishonor a great American war hero and Louisiana public servant in order to satisfy the passions of the moment. Aside from that, the Board’s actions have set a precedent for the whitewashing of every building on the Baton Rouge campus. No building on campus, nor many aspects of LSU’s storied athletic tradition, is safe from erasure after today’s actions by the Board.
Our family would like to express our sincere thanks and gratitude for the countless phone calls, texts, emails, and letters sent in support of keeping General Middleton’s name on the LSU Library he worked so hard to have built. We know he would be honored, and more than a little humbled, by such an outpouring of public support. We look forward to retrieving from LSU all of his possessions and memorabilia for display in another forum in which his life of service to his country and state will be respected and appreciated. Thank you.”