Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

The ‘old war skule’ makes amends

4th December 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

The Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors voted recently to rename some of the streets and roadways on its Baton Rouge campus associated with the Confederacy, including Raphael Semmes Road, a thoroughfare that runs through the heart of the Baton Rouge campus and upon which the LSU Union, LSU Faculty Club and the African-American Student Center are located.

Raphael Semmes was an officer in the Confederate Navy who was born in Maryland and is buried in Alabama. Widely known as a staunch racist and an enthusiastic supporter of slavery, Semmes reportedly taught at LSU for about three months in 1867.

Raphael Semmes Road will be renamed Veterans Drive.

In all, the university will change the names of more than two dozen streets on campus, 12 of them belonging to Confederate figures.

Also to be changed is a street named after former Louisiana Gov. William C.C. Claiborne, who used the fear and anger in the aftermath of the 1811 slave revolt to push Louisiana into accepting statehood.

The interesting thing about the LSU makeover is that the Board of Supervisors is framing the name changes as part of a “road modernization” plan.

In other words, it had nothing to do with a conscious decision to move beyond the racially polarizing policies and traditions of the past or into a new era that recognizes the contributions of all segments of the human population.

It was just time to upgrade the roads and street names.

I have to admit that it feels a little disingenuous to know that those in power are still worried more about stepping on the toes of those who still see nothing wrong with slavery or the Confederacy than they are about righting the wrongs of the past or moving beyond the schism of race.

One has to wonder if LSU, affectionately known as “the old war skule,” will ever get around to changing the names of military heroes on the buildings that comprise Pentagon Hall, a dormitory which is located near the LSU amphitheater and the famed Indian Burial Mounds. Among the names on the buildings are those of Confederate leader P.G.T. Beauregard and U.S. President Andrew Jackson, who famously recommended giving Native Americans blankets used by smallpox patients to reduce the population and spearheaded the mass expulsion of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands across the U.S.

Or if anyone cares that its mathematics building is named after a Confederate leader named Samuel Lockett.

Despite laying claim to some pretty famous Black alumni like Ernest “Dutch” Morial and Democratic insider Donna Brazile, who was a proud member of Black United Students at LSU, the only academic building on campus named after a Black person is A.P. Tureaud Sr. Hall, which was erected and dedicated in the early 1990s to the tireless civil rights warrior.

I attended the dedication of that building, savoring an opportunity to hear A.P. Tureaud Jr. describe his experiences as a freshman at LSU and had no idea that nearly three decades would pass without LSU getting around to naming another building after one of its Black graduates.

As the former president of Black United Students, a charter member of the Nu Iota Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and the first chairman of LSU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee, I benefited greatly from the wealth of Black intellectual leadership and dynamism among the school’s administration and faculty and had hoped that the school might someday recognize and celebrate the brilliance and contributions of people like the late Dr. Huel Perkins, LSU’s version of Morehouse College’s Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and the highest-ranking Black administrator on the campus who just so happened to pen the lyrics to Southern University’s alma mater. Or Dr. Thomas Durant, a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., my advisor when I was serving as president of Black United Students and the institution’s first Black professor.

Imagine how these two sterling examples of Black excellence might have inspired countless undergraduates who may have never met them but could have been left with a legacy that celebrated their important contributions.

Incidentally, Dr. Durant is still living in Baton Rouge and has penned a book about his experiences at LSU titled A View From the Inside — Thirty-Six Years of Desegregation.

To this day, I wonder where I might be were it not for Black administrators, faculty and staff like Dr, Kwasi Harris, Dr. Wesley McJulien, Dr. Keith Sandiford, Assoc. Dean Robert Wooten, Barbara Jackson and all of the wonderful folks who made LSU a home away from home for Black students.

I have to ask — when will LSU get around to doing away with the “Chinese Bandits” song which the Golden Band from Tiger Land plays after the football team’s defense forces opposing offenses to punt the ball or turn it over on downs.

You see, someone thought it would be cute to call the LSU football team’s defense the “Chinese bandits” because they are so stingy and don’t give anything up.

One has to also wonder if the school will ever completely move away from those “Old South” parties along Fraternity Row that beckon back to the good old days immortalized in blockbuster films like Gone With The Wind.

Who knew that so many college students far removed from antebellum times would be adamant about their right to wax nostalgic about so dark a period in U.S. history that denied the humanity of people of African descent and celebrated white supremacy?

That these “Old South” soirees happen at all is disturbing enough, but to have them take place at institutions of “higher” learning is mind-boggling and inexcusable.

Ditto for those purple and gold Confederate flags that still pop up every now and then at LSU tailgate parties and other events. It’s time to move into the 20th century before the 21st century reaches the halfway mark, y’all.

I applaud those in the LSU community who recognize the need for positive change and are actively working to move the institution and its reputation forward.

This article originally published in the December 4, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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