LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — An important milestone in the history of the civil rights struggle was commemorated on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday morning.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, and the University unveiled the ninth marker along the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail at the Pillars of Progress on the university’s campus.
The Pillars of Progress honors the legacy of four African American students – Clara Dell Constantine, Martha Jane Conway, Charles Vincent Singleton and Shirley Taylor – who, in September 1953, tried to enroll in what was then Southwestern Louisiana Institute. They were denied due to their race.
In January 1954, attorneys Thurgood Marshall and A.P. Tureaud filed a class-action complaint on their behalf. Six months later, a federal court issued a ruling that prohibited the refusal of their admission based on race. On Sept. 10, 1954, Southwestern Louisiana Institute became the first all-white, state-funded college in the South to integrate, admitting 76 African American students including Constantine, Conway, Singleton and Taylor, without the violence seen later at other Southern schools.
“This Louisiana Civil Rights Trail marker represents the bravery and determination shown by these four students in their fight to enroll in classes at the college of their choice,” Nungesser said. “Additionally, this marker, along with the Pillars of Progress, represent the countless men and women who followed integrating all aspects of the campus, each playing a significant role on the Civil Rights Movement in Lafayette and all of Louisiana.”
Joseph Savoie, UL-Lafayette president, said the school is honored to be a part of the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail.
“The marker unveiled today recognizes the courageous students whose admission to SLI created a better future for those who followed,” Savoie said. “By pushing open the institution’s doors and removing a barrier that no student of color would have to face again, their actions strengthened our University, our state and our nation. For years to come, this marker will serve to remind us that the only adequate response to such bravery is to work every day to honor it.”
The first series of Louisiana Civil Rights Trail markers were installed in 2021 at Little Union Baptist Church in Shreveport, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans and the Louisiana Old State Capitol and A.Z. Young Park in Baton Rouge. Last year, additional markers were installed at McDonogh 19 Elementary School in New Orleans, the Louisiana Maneuvers & Military Museum in Pineville and the Robert Hicks house in Bogalusa. In January 2022, the eighth marker along the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail was installed at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
The Civil Rights Markers are life-sized metal figures that are cut from steel, weigh over 200 pounds, and stand over six feet tall. The fabrication of the interpretative markers for the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail is being supported in part by an African American Civil Rights grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.