Troy Middleton's descendants file lawsuit against LSU, want military collection returned
BATON ROUGE, La. (Tribune News Service) — Descendants of the late LSU leader Troy H. Middleton filed a lawsuit Monday seeking return of his collection, which is being displayed at the LSU Military Museum, but also asked for money for being embarrassed by the university's disavowal of him as a racist.
Though the lawsuit seeks monetary damages for "extreme humiliation and embarrassment," the Middleton family's attorney Jill Craft, of Baton Rouge, said the real point is to get back Troy Middleton's papers and memorabilia, rather than punish the LSU Board of Supervisors for its June 2020 decision to remove his name from the main library on the Baton Rouge campus because of statements and efforts Middleton made as LSU president from 1951 to 1962.
"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 Monday. "If the family cannot peacefully retrieve their property, then obviously their entitled to (monetary) damages,"
The family arrived at the LSU A&M campus in Baton Rouge several times to collect the Middleton Collection, but couldn't. LSU raised "several differing excuses" about why, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by Bingham Middleton Stewart, Emily Middleton Serrano and Troy Houston Middleton III.
The family made arrangements to transfer the collection to the U.S. Army 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City and formally asked on Feb. 23 for its return.
LSU responded on April 14, advising that the university, "would be keeping approximately one-half" of the collection.
"Earlier this year, LSU offered to return the parts of the collection constituting General Middleton's personal belongings and memorabilia. However, 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. We have explained this to his heirs," said Ernie Ballard III, LSU Media Relations Director. "The university hopes that their lawsuit will give the court an opportunity to provide guidance on ownership of the historical records and bring this matter to a prompt resolution. In the interim, as we have advised the family, General Middleton's personal belongings and memorabilia are available to be retrieved at any time."
The university is displaying many of the items in its William A. Brookshire LSU Military Museum, which opened earlier this month in the newly renovated Memorial Tower.
The list of Middleton items is 26 pages long. The items include a bayonet from 1917, a Russian saber, his Distinguished Service Medal, two bronze stars and a silver star. Also included is personal correspondence with iconic Generals George S. Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley along with huge collections of photos, even a Christmas Card list from the war years.
LSU cannot find a deed, loan or any other paperwork concerning the collection, which was loaned to LSU by Middleton himself on March 23, 1972, Craft said. Middleton died in 1976.
"You can't give the state property without formalities," Craft said.
Middleton was a hero in World War I and World War II.
He traded fire with Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary, then went to Europe and fought in the Second Battle of the Marne, and was promoted to colonel at the age of 29. He received the Distinguished Service Medal.
After World I, Middleton joined LSU for six years as Commandant of Cadets at the Ole War Skule. Later he returned to LSU as an administrator and helped LSU weather a scandal that sent its president and others to prison.
After Pearl Harbor, Middleton returned to the U.S. Army and was involved in the invasion of Sicily and then Italy as part of the 45th Infantry. He then took over as head of the VIII Corps, which became part of George Patton's Third Army upon breaking out of the Cotentin Peninsula in France after D-Day. He led troops in the Battle of the Bulge, captured Koblenz, Germany, discovered death camps, and logged 480 days in combat, more than any other American general,
After the war, Middleton returned to LSU as comptroller and in 1951 was named president.
The LSU Board of Supervisors came across archived minutes from a Board of Supervisors meeting in which Middleton, as LSU president, said the university has "repeatedly made it clear it does not want Negro students," said then Board Chairman James Williams, of New Orleans.
During the June 2020 meeting, during which the Board voted to strike Middleton's name from the main library and remove his statue, Williams said Middleton's legacy is more than "just a few stray comments," most notably in a letter on desegregation he wrote to former University of Texas Chancellor Harry Ransom in 1961 that said LSU still kept black students "in a given area."
Williams cited a letter from Middleton dated May 1, 1956, which said: "I do not want Negro students at LSU. I believe in segregation of races, and, no matter what may come, I shall not associate with Negroes." Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had addressed the Board at the meeting, agreed that "it is time for the name of the library to be changed."
Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant, of Baton Rouge, was assigned to hear the lawsuit.
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