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Pollen covers the typically heavily traveled walkway and benches near LSU's Middleton Library in the Quad on the first full day of Governor John Bel Edwards' Stay at Home order to combat the spread of coronavirus, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

LSU announced with black student leaders Wednesday evening that it will rename Middleton Library, pending board approval. The proposed change would include removing the bust of Troy H. Middleton and anything associated with his name in the building.

The announcement came shortly after LSU leadership met with black student leaders for the fourth consecutive day, discussing ways to bring more racial justice to campus.

The LSU Board of Supervisors next meets on June 19.

"Our goal is to erase symbols of things that exemplify a racist past," LSU interim President Tom Galligan said. "Any student, or particularly a student of color, that has to go into any building which bears the name of someone not identified with progress and with racist traditions is to inhibit their education. They won't feel safe in that building."

LSU opened the library on Oct. 23, 1959, and it named the building after Middleton in 1979.

Middleton is a former LSU president, from 1951 to 1962, and his troubled legacy surrounds a letter on desegregation he wrote to former University of Texas Chancellor Harry Ransom in 1961 that said LSU still kept black students "in a given area."

Black student leaders expressed their desire for LSU to change the name of the library, and LSU Board of Supervisors Chair Mary Werner said a school committee is already in place to evaluate every building's name at LSU.

Devin Woodson, a 20-year-old junior and co-chair of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative, said David Boyd Hall and Kirby Hall are other buildings suggested for name changes.

Middleton is the first building to meet review.

Werner said she has spoken with a majority of the board ahead of next week's meeting and has received "very positive" feedback on renaming the library.

"I do expect it will pass," she said.

"It's historic," said Woodson, a 20-year-old junior and co-chair of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative. "It's a resemblance of much bigger change that's coming to LSU. LSU is slowly turning the page of its history."

Werner said she does anticipate blowback for the removal of a name that has been associated with the library for over 40 years.

Middleton was a major in the U.S. Army, someone who arrived on campus in Baton Rouge in 1930 and became a commandant of ROTC cadets. He served as assistant vice president of the university in 1939 and was the comptroller until the end of 1941. After serving in World War II, Middleton was again the comptroller in 1951.

Middleton's great-grandson, also named Troy, wrote an op-ed in The Advocate in 2019 saying he was "dismayed" that Middleton was viewed as an "out-and-out racist" instead of a "war hero who dutifully enforced desegregation."

Phone calls made to Middleton were not immediately returned as of press time.

"I know some of those conversations will be difficult," Werner said. "This is a time where change is at hand, and I ask everyone to look at things through the lens of the time that we're in."

The announcement comes days after LSU apologized for its bungled initial response to a viral video of an incoming student yelling a racial slur.

Black student leaders met with LSU leadership on Monday to resolve the situation, and the initial response, students in attendance said, made it seem like there was no process in place to hold the incoming student accountable. But, during the meeting, Galligan and school administrators made it clear that a process was indeed in place.

Galligan and LSU leadership have not detailed the specific incident with student leaders, nor via public statement, citing privacy protections.

The initial response threatened to undermine the efforts Galligan and LSU administrators made to engage the campus' black community in the midst of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality.

Last Wednesday, Galligan stepped in the middle of a circle of about 300 people at a student-organized protest, BlackOutLSU, near Middleton Library and said into a loudspeaker "black lives matter."

"So I pledge," Galligan said then, "for as long as I am your interim president, that I will work with you to do something about it. All right? And the place to start is home, what can we do on our campus to make it a better place."

LSU and black student leadership met on Tuesday and Wednesday, where students shared six key points they wanted LSU leadership to change on campus:

  1. Increase the ratio of minority professionals in every academic area
  2. Increase funding for minority programs and departments
  3. Organize resources for minority students and workers dealing with mental health and trauma
  4. Correct issues of blatant racism and discrimination on campus through the Student Code of Conduct and LSU Student Advocacy and Accountability
  5. Mandate that LSU make timely statements condemning racism and injustice at all levels of the university and implement policies clearly outlining the university’s standard of approval
  6. Establish a black student representative in university administration conversations that impact the student body

Woodson said LSU’s step toward action Wednesday in removing Middleton’s name from the library is a sign of progress.

”I think LSU knows that they need to make a commitment,“ Woodson said. “This, I think, shows LSU is in the beginning stages.”


Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.