ACA.libraryfallout.01.020221

The downtown branch of the Lafayette Public Library.

The fallout continued Monday after the Lafayette Parish public library board of control rejected a grant to fund books and a discussion about the history of voting rights.

Board president Doug Palombo said in a news release Monday that the grant was rejected because the library director did not find a conservative facilitator to counter speakers they deemed too "far left."

The board's directive was to find facilitators from "each side of the aisle to fairly represent opposing positions on the current controversial voting issues in the program, such as voter ID laws, voter rights of felons and the electoral college," Palombo said in the prepared statement.

Palombo did not return messages Monday requesting an interview.

The Acadiana Advocate was first to report Friday that the board voted 5-2 at its Jan. 25 meeting to reject a $2,700 Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities grant on "Who Gets to Vote?" One board member said she has to represent her conservative constituents and another said residents don't support the library because it has become too political.

Lafayette library board kills voting rights grant over 'far left' speakers

"The series, developed by the LEH, is intended to engage members of the general public in conversations on the history of voting — and efforts to suppress the vote — in the United States," according to the grant application.

One of the books, "Bending Toward Justice" by Gary May, is about the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Another is "Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All," by Martha S. Jones.

The facilitators would have been Chris Edelson, assistant profession in the government department at American University in Washington, D.C., and Theodore Foster, an assistant professor of African American history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Library Director Teresa Elberson, who was with the library system more than 38 years, retired suddenly Friday in the wake of clashes with the board.

Lafayette Parish library director retires suddenly after clash over voting rights programming

The board rejected the grant because Elberson "disregarded the board's clear directive requiring her to secure two facilitators from opposing political sides for the program," according to the Monday news release.

Top stories in Acadiana in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

In December, the news release states, "seeing that some of the more current topics to be covered in the program were political and potentially controversial in nature, the board re-emphasized its goal to ensure that the library, as a government agency, should remain a politically neutral, or apolitical, entity."

Elberson, board members learned at the Jan. 25 meeting, instead instructed her staff to contact the two facilitators that were already selected and advise them of the board's concerns. 

"The board regrets that the director chose to disregard our very clear and reasonable directive," Palombo said in the release. "Had she simply honored the board's wishes, I do believe the grant would have been approved unanimously.

"Instead," he said, "both of the college professors she submitted as facilitators were clearly from the same side of the political debate. This board is determined to bring political neutrality back to our library system. It is a government institution that belongs to all Lafayette Parish residents and as such, it should never even appear to favor one political view over another."

Rick Swanson, a professor of political science at UL Lafayette, asked Monday what's the "other side" the board wants presented.

"That democracy is bad? That voting rights are bad?" he asked. "That Black people or other ethnic minorities should be denied the right to vote because of their skin color? Do they want someone to present the view of past or present segregationists/white supremacists?"

"Or merely that there is no such thing as any voting discrimination or voter suppression that is occurring anymore today on the basis of race?" he asked. "But even if it's the latter case, why are they then also blocking any education or discussion about past voting discrimination and/or the lingering effects that past discrimination still has on society today?"

"I would love to hear a precise explanation from them. I can't imagine an explanation that is anything other than highly troubling from both an educational and civic standpoint," Swanson concluded.

Black activists to protest at Lafayette library after board kills voting rights grant

Some groups, including Lafayette's Stand Black organization and the Louisiana NAACP, are planning to show up at the next library board meeting at 5:15 p.m. Feb. 15 at the main library downtown to express their displeasure. 

"Louisiana has a repugnant history of manipulating the truth of racism and bigotry," said Jamal Taylor, cofounder of Stand Black and chair of the education committee of the Louisiana NAACP, in a statement. We will not continue to sit silently while a small contingent of racists and bigots perpetuate conspiracy theories."


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.