BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Family members of a former Louisiana State University president want the school to return a collection of his military items that’s being displayed on campus, according to a lawsuit. They’re also seeking monetary damages for “extreme humiliation” caused by the university’s denouncement of his segregationist views.
Jill Craft, the attorney representing descendants of Troy H. Middleton, told The Advocate that the suit filed Monday aims to get historical papers and memorabilia back, not to punish the university’s Board of Supervisors for deciding in June 2020 to remove Middleton’s name from the main library on the Baton Rouge campus.
Middleton was LSU president from 1951 until 1962. He died in 1976. In news reports and letters from his time as president, the former military general described his belief in racial segregation. He said he didn’t want Black students on campus but was required to allow them under court order.
LSU Interim President Tom Galligan recommended the name removal last year after meetings with Black student leaders, who raised concerns about inequality and the lack of diversity on campus. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards supported the removal of Middleton’s name.
“It’s not as related to that as it is to the whole notion that LSU took a position to vilify General Middleton, said they wanted no reminders of him on campus and they said, ‘Come get your stuff,’” Craft said. “If the family cannot peacefully retrieve their property, then obviously their entitled to (monetary) damages.”
The lawsuit says family members went to campus multiple times to retrieve the collection that’s on display in the LSU Military Museum, but the university raised “several differing excuses” about why they couldn’t.
In April, LSU told the family that the university “would be keeping approximately one-half” of the collection in response to a formal request for its return. Middleton’s descendants arranged for the items to be transferred to the U.S. Army 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City.
“LSU, as a state institution, cannot simply give away the parts of the collection that constitute historical government records and documents that may properly belong to the university and/or the federal government,” Ernie Ballard III, a university spokesperson, told The Advocate. “We have explained this to his heirs.”
Ballard said LSU hopes the lawsuit will allow the court a chance to provide guidance on the ownership of the historical records. He said the family can retrieve Middleton’s personal belongings and memorabilia in the meantime.