I value student leaders like Devin Woodson, co-chair of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative, on the 57th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers.
Why do I as a civil rights advocate believe LSU should not rename the Middleton Library? It is ill-founded to retroactively impose current zeitgeists on historically different times. As an example, Aristotle on slavery — should we reject his writings?
Contrast Gen. Troy Houston Middleton with Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee led forces against U.S. soldiers and violated the Constitution; he was a traitor. Middleton led troops in support of freedom as the decision-maker who gave the order during World War II to hold Bastogne, which led to our Allied victory. Had he not been principled in giving that historic order, we might be living in Nazi Louisiana without an LSU.
Was he racist? Yes, by today's norms. Who at LSU, including the Board of Supervisors, faculty, staff and administrators, were not racist in 1961?
Middleton, as LSU president, wrote a letter in 1961 stating that “LSU still kept black students 'in a given area …'” This was wrong although he later worked to advance desegregation.
With respect to interim President Thomas Galligan’s quote, it’s incorrect to say that the Middleton Library is a “symbol of things that exemplify a racist past.” The library was named after Middleton in 1979 to exemplify his service records: World War I and World War II, education leader and advocate for students in fighting a long battle to build a library. His words in an obscure letter discovered decades after the library was built and dedicated was not the symbolic basis to “exemplify a racist past.”
Did he do anything right after the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Yes, he chaired the Louisiana biracial commission on civil rights from 1965 to 1970 in support of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Arguably this commission paved the way for Louisiana to avoid some of the more horrific racial tragedies that Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia experienced.
My asks: Make clear, essential distinctions between Civil War traitors and imperfect leaders who conformed to legal norms of the times; rather than renaming the Middleton Library, emphasize teachable issues by educating black and white students, staff and faculty administrators about Middleton's faults and his character virtues; establish an LSU African and African-American Studies Department allowing students to earn a major and provide funding for additional prominent/highly credentialed faculty; make the campus safe for minorities and women; eradicate the systemic racism in many sororities and fraternities.
GREG GORMANOUS, Ph.D.