About two dozen students gathered near LSU’s golf course Thursday night, eating hot dogs and listening to music at what the NAACP chapter billed as a “Confederate BBQ.”
Across campus, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke sat on a bench outside the Lod Cook Hotel with three young men, defending the Confederacy.
And the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group whose meeting at the hotel on LSU’s campus this week spurred all of this, quietly went about their normal evening activities.
There were no fireworks or confrontations, though Duke was asked to move along after chatting for about half an hour as curious hotel guests shuffled past him.
Cimajie Best, president of the LSU chapter of the NAACP, said she was mostly amused by the response, as well as Duke’s interest.
“You read about David Duke and you don’t realize that he’s a real person,” she said, noting the surreal nature of it all. “It’s like, ‘You are in the wrong place.’ ”
Despite jokes that she had made about “roasting the Confederate flag,” there were no flags on the grill.
It’s illegal in Louisiana and four other states to burn the Confederate flag, though that law goes against constitutional protections for flag burnings and is unlikely to be enforced.
What had apparently set Duke and his supporters off were Best’s comments about the barbecue being a celebration of the Black Lives Matter movement and a strike back at Confederate symbolism. She said the Daughters of the Confederacy meeting on campus made her upset and she wanted to give freshmen students an activity that would be about “food and fellowship.”
“I want to see more unity,” she said.
But Duke has frequently taken up the cause of defending relics of the Confederacy, including as the national debate over Confederate displays reignited this summer following the mass murder of nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting prompted the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol.
“This university was built by Confederate soldiers. Today, they are painted as terrible racists,” Duke told the small gathering of reporters at LSU.
A well-known white nationalist, Duke has often courted the spotlight and media attention.
“It’s a shame that they would go after such a fine group of ladies,” he said of the Daughters of the Confederacy. “These are very fine ladies.”
The organization, meanwhile, swiftly sought to distance itself from a man whose name has become virtually synonymous with the word “racist” -— a label he rejects.
“He is not an invited guest,” said Sarah Grace Brooks, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. “Our values and our morals do not align with anything he stands for.”
Daughters of the Confederacy was founded in 1894 to honor those who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The group has erected markers and monuments across the South, including several in Louisiana.