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Honored 58 years after integrating LSU

1st August 2011   ·   0 Comments

In May, LSU’s first Black undergraduate student, Alexander Pierre Tureaud Jr., was awarded an LSU degree, 58 years after he first began to pursue that degree in 1953. Tureaud was presented with an honorary doctorate at LSU’s 274th commencement ceremony on May 20, 2011.

Tureaud formally integrated the LSU campus, and was subsequently removed less than a semester later by court order and racial tensions.

Tureaud says he didn’t get any advice about going to LSU from his father, civil rights attorney A.P. Tureaud Sr., before enrolling 58 years ago. “My father was a very low-key guy and he didn’t really talk a lot about what I should or should not do,” Tureaud told The Louisiana Weekly Thurs­day.

“First of all, everyone assumes that my father recruited me to go there to desegregate the undergraduate school because for 15 years before I went in, he was working on desegregating the graduate schools, starting with the law school, the education school and the other graduate schools.

“He really did not recruit me,” Tureaud continued. “I volunteered to go because I felt that it was a good school for the money. …My father was not the kind of guy who would sit you down and tell you what he thought you needed to know. He was more of the type of parent who would expose you to things and take you to places and let you make up your own mind about what you thought about these things. He didn’t really sit around and say ‘Well, this might happen or that might happen’; he just said ‘Go and have a good time. Enjoy yourself.’”

Tureaud remembers well the two months or so during the Fall 1953 semester that he spent as an undergraduate at LSU. “I guess I was somewhat naive in thinking that the legal action would kind of dissipate after awhile and that for 15 minutes I’d have a little bit of notoriety but after a few days things would settle down and I’d be able to have the kind of college experience I wanted,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “Of course that didn’t happen.

“I mostly received indifference and silent treatment,” he continued. “Nobody verbally attacked me or physically threatened me. They didn’t engage with me in any way. The professors were very distant. I think the word was out that if you befriended me, you were going to be ostracized and blackballed. I was obviously not welcome…

“The guys on either side of my (dorm) room decided that if they kept me up all night and made me unhappy I would leave, so they would bang on the walls and play their radios all night,” Tureaud continued. “There was no air conditioning. If I walked into the showers everybody walked out and when I sat in a classroom everybody moved as far away from me as possible. There was a general sort of social rejection.

“There was a lot of rejection by professors who talked about me as if I wasn’t present in the classroom, talking about having to teach a Black person in their class.”

Tureaud said he was also vilified and ridiculed by the school newspaper, The Daily Reveille. “The Daily Reveille kept this thing going with me,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “Every time I had to do something, there was something in the newspaper like when I had to swim the pool. You had to swim the pool or else you had to take swimming. So that was a big media event with the press there and questions like ‘Will they drain the pool after he swims?’”

Both Ernest N. Morial and Robert Collins were enrolled in the LSU Law School when Tureaud came to LSU. While Tureaud says he knew both men from New Orleans, Collins and Morial were busy pursuing law degrees and Tureaud found himself isolated in an ocean of white LSU undergraduates.

Tureaud said he stayed away from LSU football games because he didn’t want to subject himself to further attacks on his dignity.

“I can remember coming home and talking about how unhappy I was and my dad would say, ‘Oh, it’s okay. Things’ll work out. Don’t worry about it,’” Tureaud said. “He always played down the negative part…That’s the way he approached his whole life.”

By the time the preliminary injunction that allowed Tureaud to enroll at LSU was revoked, he was ready to go. “My father came up and got me and I came home,” he said. “I entered Xavier the following Monday and I said to him, ‘When I leave I’m not going back.’ I endured more than I thought. I made a mistake, it wasn’t what I wanted. College was supposed to be the best time of my life. I didn’t go there to be a martyr, although I know I’ve set a precedent in terms of legal action.”

A.P. Tureaud Jr. eventually went on to earn his undergraduate degree at Xavier University of Louisiana, and has worked as a professional educator in White Plains, N.Y., for the past 38 years.

It is important to note that Tureaud enrolled at LSU in the fall of 1953, some nine months before the landmark 1954 Brown v. The Board of Education Supreme Court decision. That was before Autherine Lucy set foot on the University of Alabama campus (1956), James Meredith challenged racial segregation at Ole Miss (1962) or Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter endured chants of “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate!” to enroll at the University of Georgia (1961).

“I didn’t know this until later, but I think I was the first Black litigant suing a white, Southern state university,” Tureaud told The Louisiana Weekly. “It was more than I thought I could handle at 17. It was a pretty miserable experience for a 17-year-old. I didn’t think it was going to be a problem, but once I got there I realized that there were so many people wanting me to fail that it wasn’t going to be a good experience.

“I was very happy to leave,” he continued. “I never talked about it or used it as a wedge for anything. I just kind of wanted to put it out of my memory because it took me a long time to readjust to normal social interaction.”

Tureaud says his first return to LSU was in the 1980s after the school’s Black alumni association decided to rename the association in honor of A.P. Tureaud Sr. “It was an emotional experience,” Tureaud recalled. “The people who started that chapter were very supportive and it was a nice turnout. That was the beginning of a healing process.”

Tureaud was subsequently invited back several times since the 1980s to participate in events to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1991 to mark the dedication of A.P. Tureaud Sr. Hall, a classroom building.

“The A.P. Tureaud Sr. Black Alumni Chapter was instrumental in getting the building named for my dad,” he explained. “I was there for that and that was a very moving experience. I thought that that was about all that LSU was ever going to do for the Tureaud family, which was significant. My mother was able to pull the cord and unveil the name on the building, so that was a very nice experience for my family. And it was also another healing, another reaching out to not just our family but to Black people in this community, state and country and a step forward for LSU.

“Of course, they never did any of this stuff until we asked them to,” he continued. “They didn’t just wake up one morning and say ‘We’re going to name a building for A.P. Tureaud.’ And they haven’t named any other buildings for any Black people although a lot of other Black people have done marvelous things for the state as well.”

This past spring, after 12 years, Tureaud and LSU alumna Rachel Emanuel celebrated the release of A More Noble Cause, which was published by the LSU Press. It was during that celebration that Tureaud was told that he had been selected to be presented with an honorary doctorate.

“I couldn’t believe that was possible, but it was truly a wonderful experience,” Tureaud recalled. “I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see this happen because 58 years is a long time.”

“This is a marvelous experience for me to sit here … and to just think what it might have been for me 58 years ago to graduate from this esteemed university,” Tureaud remarked at the Spring 2011 commencement. “I would like to say thank you to everyone who made this transition, this healing and this statement of the importance of diversity, inclusion and celebration. I stand on the shoulders and I hold the hearts of my parents, of their colleagues, of people throughout this state and country who work together to bring us to the place that we are, which is a celebration of an American country that has great value and wants everyone to be the best American they can be. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Tureaud also participated in the LSU African-American Cultural Center’s Robing Ceremony, which takes place at the end of every spring semester. The ceremony honors African and African-American students who have completed an undergraduate degree at LSU. University faculty and staff, or persons close to the graduates, robe them with a traditional African Kente woven in LSU colors. The Kente signifies the completion of their academic journey and transition to the next step of their lives.

Tureaud also received a framed SpringFest polo short, picture and special lanyard designed specifically for him to celebrate the student experience he did not get to have during his time at LSU. SpringFest is a recruitment weekend for high achieving, ethnic-minority high school students. Tureaud discussed what an honor the ceremony was and thanked Gaines Foster, dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences, for nominating him for the degree. The tribute to Tureaud concluded with East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden declaring May 19 as “A.P. Tureaud Jr. Day” and naming Tureaud honorary Mayor-President.

During the last two years, Tureaud has visited LSU in various capacities, including as keynote speaker for LSU’s Harambeé celebration and to engage with the A.P. Tureaud Sr. Black Alumni Chapter.

Tureaud has a permanent home among LSU’s Black pioneers who include the late Ernest N. Morial, the first Black LSU Law School graduate; Roy S. Wilson, the first Black admitted to the LSU Law School; Lester Pourciau, the first Black LSU Student Government Association president; Reneé Boutte, LSU’s first Black homecoming queen; Robert E. Pierre, the first Black editor of LSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Reveille; Collis Temple Jr., LSU’s first Black basketball player; Carl Otis Trimble, LSU’s first Black quarterback; Paula Jackson and Saundra Mims, LSU’s first Black Golden Girls; Nicole Moliere, LSU’s first Black female president of the LSU Union Governing Board and Programming Council; Dr. Pinkie Gordon Lane, the first Black to earn a Ph.D. from LSU; and Dr. Carolyn Collins, LSU’s first Black dean.

LSU’s first Black professor, Dr. Julian White, died last month at the age of 73.

Also receiving an honorary doctorate was W. Henson Moore, a former Louisiana state representative from the 8th Congressional District.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article was originally published in the August 1, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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