When Alexander “A.P.” Tureaud Jr. stepped onto LSU's campus nearly seven decades ago, he was met with hostility as the university's first and only Black undergraduate student at that time.
At 17 years old, he had to sue for his right to be there. Professors questioned whether they could touch his papers and the only social interactions he had were with the few Black graduate students and cafeteria workers on campus.
Within 55 days of starting classes, the lawsuit challenging the school's segregation rules ended in a mistrial and the isolation and prejudices he endured were enough to drive him back to his hometown of New Orleans to attend Xavier University.
“I didn’t leave until I had to leave,” he said in a recent interview. "I realized I made a mistake, but I realized I represented a step forward.”
Despite vowing to never return to LSU, Tureaud years later became heavily involved with the A.P Tureaud Sr. Black Alumni Association. The group is named after his father, a prominent Civil Rights lawyer who fought for Black students' right to attend schools and universities, including his own son.
On Friday, the association lauded Tureaud Jr. with the Legends Award, the organization’s highest honor for alumni for their career and civil achievements.
During the organization's 12th annual award forum, Katrina Dunn, the alumni association's president, read the names of the six students who desegregated LSU nearly a decade after Tureaud was forced to withdraw. Dunn said she couldn't help but think of the countless others who were denied an education because of their skin color.
"A.P. (Tureaud Jr.) and 'the 1964 six' and the ones whose names we will never know paved the way for the LSU we know and love today," she said. "They are a cornerstone."
Tureaud's experience at LSU in many ways mirrored the nation’s attitude on race and reluctance to desegregate schools and universities. As a child growing up in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, he said he saw the perils of a racist society. He recalls regular lynchings, firebombings of homes and threats his family received.
Lack of any graduate schools at the time often drove many Black Louisianans to go elsewhere. But, when they came back home, they often couldn’t find work outside of the service industry and other jobs for which they were overqualified.
That reality led Tureaud to attend Columbia University in New York shortly after graduating from Xavier, where he earned his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. Before retiring in 1996, Tureaud led special education in the White Plains, New York school system, just north of the city.
He currently lives in Connecticut and works as a freelance educational consultant, public speaker and artist. He also co-authored the book “A More Noble Cause: A. P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana,” which chronicles the state’s history on civil rights from a legal perspective.
Though his career saw him return to Louisiana often, Tureaud said he was hesitant to return to LSU. Even the times he would drive near campus, the distant sound of campus windchimes stirred uncomfortable memories.
He said he felt compelled to get involved with the Black Alumni Association when it formed, both to pay homage to his father and support the growing number of black students graduating from LSU who shared many of the same obstacles.
LSU also awarded Tureaud with an honorary doctorate in 2011, nearly six decades after his education there was halted.
The University has made significant strides, Tureaud said, pointing to platforms students of color have to voice their thoughts as well as support from their white classmates. But universities across the country could also do more to integrate students of all races within the campus community, he said.
This summer, LSU stripped the name Troy Middleton off its main library. That decision came following a groundswell of support to rename it after student leaders pointed to a 1961 letter Middleton, who was LSU's president in the '50s and '60s, wrote to the University of Texas chancellor, saying LSU still kept Black students “in a given area.”
Interim LSU President Tom Galligan, while speaking at Friday’s event, said LSU has been confronting its uncomfortable past. And while he says inroads have been made to address racial equality -- including the fact that this year’s incoming undergraduate class is one of the most diverse in recent years -- more needs to be done.
"True equality and inclusion is the vaccine for that pandemic," Galligan said. "We need to be working as hard on that one as hard as we're working on the vaccine for the COVID-19."
A crew member stood atop a yellow scaffolding with a hammer and chisel Friday afternoon, and, letter by letter, removed Troy H. Middleton's na…