Tureaud recounts stories of trial and triumph at LSU

A.P. Tureaud Jr. has a lot of stories to tell — the product of living, as he calls it, an “enriched life.”

The first African-American to enroll at LSU and the son of a famed Louisiana civil rights pioneer, Tureaud shared some of those stories as featured speaker at the annual African-American Heritage Celebration at the Baton Rouge federal courthouse on Wednesday.

They include the time he drove Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights activists around New Orleans. The fear he felt in breaking the color barrier at LSU and his decision not to return. His great-grandfather’s turn from slave to state lawmaker.

Tureaud’s father fought against segregation in New Orleans as the attorney for the city’s chapter of the NAACP and worked on civil rights efforts with Marshall, who would go on to become the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

During one of Marshall’s visits to New Orleans, Tureaud’s father let him skip school so he could drive the lawyers to their meetings throughout the city.

“At some point, I said to myself, ‘If I have an accident, this is the end of the civil rights movement,’ ” Tureaud said.

Tureaud, with his father serving as his attorney, successfully sued LSU for admission in 1953 but was there only eight weeks before a judge overturned the ruling and Tureaud’s admission was revoked.

His father continued the challenge, and Tureaud could have gone back to the university, but after experiencing prejudice and isolation at LSU, Tureaud said, he decided instead to enroll at Xavier University in New Orleans.

“When I was driving here this morning, I thought about the 17-year-old boy and what it felt like to be driving back to LSU after being home for a weekend of love and affection and facing the horrors of the segregation, isolation and unwantedness at LSU in 1953,” Tureaud said Wednesday.

“It also reminded me of the kindness and the community of black people in Baton Rouge who opened their hearts, their minds, their homes to make me feel welcome.”

Speaking to the crowd of about 100 people — including students from Tara High —- who had gathered in one of the federal courtrooms for the celebration, Tureaud said that while living in White Plains, N.Y. as an adult, he never planned to return to LSU.

“It was not a good part of my life and it was over,” he said.

That changed in 1988, when a group of black LSU alumni asked him to come to campus to speak at a special event.

“I did not want to go,” Tureaud said. “I had taken that chapter of my life and put it in a box and closed it.”

Looking back, Tureaud said the invitation “made my world expand beyond my wildest dreams.”

“The horrible parts of (his time at LSU) have been let loose, and I have learned to celebrate and look at how things can change and how groups of people can work together to create a different kind of world, a different future,” he said.

He marvels at the changes: The thousands of black students who have enrolled at LSU in the decades since he left; the fact that a building on campus bears his father’s name; the fact that his book was published by LSU Press and he received an honorary doctorate in 2007 from the university that went so far in 1953 to show him he was not welcome.

Tureaud said his father loved the law and was passionate about his efforts but was “a man of great simple tastes.”

“My father said to me when he was dying of cancer at the age of 73 that he had a good life, that he accomplished all the things that he wanted to, and that he had been treated with respect — even by his adversaries,” he said. “He would not know how to handle the acclaim and honor bestowed upon him.”

Chief Judge Brian Jackson said the elder Tureaud was an inspiration.

“He was truly one of the greatest lawyers in the history of the United States — not just Louisiana,” Jackson said.

Tureaud found out more about his family’s historical legacy while co-writing his father’s biography with Rachel Emanuel, of Southern University’s Law Center.

His great-grandfather, Adolphe Tureaud, was a former slave who went on to serve three terms in the Louisiana Legislature during Reconstruction.

“He worked to help rebuild the state of Louisiana, to rebuild the culture of the country and rebuild the democracy that everyone should have in this country,” Tureaud said. “He was not vitriolic against the people who had enslaved him or the people who had started a war over power and control.”

Tureaud said he has worked with historians to learn more about his great-grandfather.

“I don’t think my father knew as much about his grandfather as I do,” he said.