LSU is naming the African American Cultural Center after the university’s first black board chairman.
The Board of Supervisors voted Friday, without objection, to name the center after the late Clarence L. Barney Jr., of New Orleans and who had served as chairman in 1992. It is the second building on the LSU campus to be named after a person of color. (The other is an academic building named after A. P. Tureaud, the civil rights lawyer who initiated the lawsuits that forced the Orleans Parish School System to desegregate.)
Barney, who died in 2005 at the age of 70, had been president of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans for more than 30 years, retiring in 1996.
Barney also had served on the boards of the Louisiana Superdome Commission and Dryades Savings Bank. He was a graduate of Southern University. He received a master's degree from Tulane University and did post-graduate study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard Business School. He lectured nationally on social problems and the inner city economic development process.
“He was an important figure in building bridges between the black and white communities in New Orleans in the 1960s and 1970s,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans.
Barney had pushed to create a center for black students in 1970s. It was called the Harambee House, which closed a few years later.
"We learn from Mr. Barney ‘hope’ that what we are doing as a board matters,” said Board member James M. Williams, a New Orleans lawyer. “We can look to Mr. Barney’s example and realize that we have hope that what we do will matter, that small things we do today will have a lasting impact on the university in the future.”
Williams recalled that as an LSU student in March 1991 he and other African American students sought a place to talk about Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers. But there was no place for them to gather safely on campus.
University administrators resisted efforts to open a center.
Barney brought the chancellor and vice chancellor to a meeting with the students and told the officials that their blocking of the request “ends right now. This center will open,” Williams remembered.
The entire renovation and furnishings for the center cost less than $20,000 in 1992, when LSU had about 300 African American students.
LSU President F. King Alexander reported the fall semester had more African American students enrolled than at any other time in the institution's history. The university counted just over 3,741 African American students out of about 32,000 total enrollment.
Dereck J. Rovaris, vice provost for diversity, added that LSU now has more black students than about 70 historically black colleges and universities across the country.
Shawn Barney said his father felt LSU provided people in opportunities to improve their lives. He felt "LSU is the most important institution in the state of Louisiana."
The Clarence L. Barney, Jr. African American Cultural Center is on LSU’s Baton Rouge campus at 3 Raphael Semmes Road. The street is named after the Confederate rear admiral who sailed the CSS Alabama, which raided Union commerce vessels around the world during the Civil War. Shawn Barney said the street name "reflects where they were then. This (the cultural center) reflects where they are now."
The university plans to hold a rededication ceremony for the Clarence L. Barney Jr. African American Cultural Center during the fall.