If Paul Richard was seeking low-hanging fruit for his change.org petition to rename buildings at UL Lafayette, he knew where to hunt for it.
His petition — it bears more than 500 names — points first to three names that adorn buildings at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette: Alexandre Mouton, Paul DeClouet and Murphy J. Foster. The first and third names were of Louisiana governors; DeClouet was a Confederate soldier who later became a prominent planter and state lawmaker.
UL Lafayette maintains buildings were named in the men’s honor for the good they did the institution. Maybe so. Mouton’s descendants were generous donors to UL; as a lawmaker, DeClouet secured needed financial help for the campus. Foster signed into law creation of the campus itself.
But petition supporters see a different side of these men, one that bears measured pause by Louisianians. Change may be in order.
As president of the state’s 1861 Secession Convention, Mouton led Louisiana out of the United States. The document was embraced by wealthy Louisiana slaveholders, whose numbers and interests dominated the convention, and who especially treasured these words Mouton spoke: “I now declare the connection between the state of Louisiana and the Federal Union dissolved; and that she is a free, sovereign and independent power.”
DeClouet studied in Virginia before enrolling for Confederate service first there, later in Louisiana and the Trans-Mississippi Department. He might be more suspect for his participation in the White League in the 1870s, a paramilitary organization that suppressed rights of Black people. In “Slavery’s Ghost, the Problem of Freedom in the Age of Emancipation,” historians wrote, “Like many of his class, Paul DeClouet joined a White League and went on night patrol with fellow supremacists to overturn the Black challenge.”
With Foster, things get worse. The future governor, too young for Confederate service, was identified in “The Attakapas Country: A History of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana,” as an 1870s leader in the White League, someone who encouraged formation of other, like clubs. As governor, Foster supported and signed the 1898 Louisiana Constitution, which established and perpetuated White supremacy in Louisiana law and established a poll tax, which kept Black and poor White people from voting.
That’s why UL Lafayette has taken a wise course in naming a committee to study all campus place names. The university may honor Mouton, DeClouet and Foster today, but it doesn’t mean they must honor them tomorrow. Ascertaining the truth is important.
A University of Louisiana System spokeswoman suggested this week that other campuses around the state are pursuing similar reviews of site and street names. Time may have passed by the above and other luminaries; there’s no better time than now to seek better choices.