By Robert Mann
Shortly after prosecutors sent then-Gov. Richard Leche to federal prison for mail fraud in 1940, Louisiana State University officials erased his name from campus. The school’s law school building, completed in December 1937, was named “Leche Hall.” A medallion bearing his profile rested above the building’s main doors.
With Leche in prison, school officials removed the medallion. Above the Corinthian columns on the building’s entrance, workers drew out the large limestone blocks bearing the letters of Leche’s name. They reversed them and shoved them back into place. In a matter of days, the disgraced governor’s name and image vanished from campus.
Seventy-eight years later, it’s time to do the same with Raphael Semmes, whose name adorns one of LSU’s most prominent streets. Semmes was a Confederate admiral and is the subject of a handful of Civil War histories for his exploits. He undoubtedly possessed a great military mind. He is no insignificant figure in Civil War history.
He was, however, a virulent racist who fought ferociously to destroy the Union and preserve slavery. After the war, he was arrested and charged with treason. Although he was never tried, his actions — like those of other Confederate leaders — were treasonous.
Born in Maryland and buried in Alabama, Semmes was not a Louisiana native. In fact, he lived in Louisiana and served on the school’s faculty for less than five months in 1867. And yet LSU accords him the remarkable honor of one of the campus’ most scenic and prominent streets. Raphael Semmes Road is the address of the Student Union, the campus bookstore, the LSU Women’s Center and, ironically, the African American Cultural Center.
Semmes is not the only offensive name on an LSU building or street. As a group of my students learned after conducting a comprehensive inventory of LSU, four buildings and streets on campus are named after Confederates while only three are named for African-Americans. (You can read their research at RenewLSU.org.)
Almost 20 years into the 21st Century, it’s time for Semmes and the other Confederates honored on the LSU campus to go. They have no place on the buildings and streets of a public university that claims to value diversity and inclusion.
My students also discovered that only one academic building displays the name of an African-American, on a campus with a student population that is 12 percent black in a state in which a third of residents are black. That building is A.P. Tureaud Sr. Hall, a grungy classroom building unpopular with students. Tureaud was a great civil rights leader. His son, A.P. Tureaud Jr., was the first black undergraduate student admitted to LSU (in 1953).
I don’t know if Tureaud’s family members are offended their father’s name is affixed to a building afforded so little respect by LSU, but they should be.
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.