What's It Like to Be a Symbol of Integration?

A.P. Tureaud Jr. (right) and friend Steven Walkley (NPR)

A.P. Tureaud Jr. enrolled as a freshman at Louisiana State University in 1953, becoming the school's first and only black undergraduate that year. His admission was the result of a lawsuit filed on his behalf after his first application to the school was rejected because of his race.

Getting in, however, was far from the only challenge he faced. In a segment for NPR's Story Corps, Tureaud, 75, talks with his friend Steven Walkley, 62, about loneliness, being harassed by other students and what it felt like to be what he calls a "symbol of integration."

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Read a few excerpts here: 

"When I got to LSU, I was miserable," Tureaud says. "The students wouldn't speak to me. I think someone had decided that if they totally isolated me I would leave."

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"Did you have a roommate?" Walkley asks.

"No, I was in a room, but there were students on either side, and they took turns trying to keep me up at night with radios going, banging on the walls," Tureaud says. "If I walked in the showers, everybody walked out. And the professors wouldn't touch my papers. One woman even said, 'I've never taught a negro. How am I going to get through this term?'"

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… "So I'm sitting there talking to Mike, and this pickup truck pulls up. And I thought, 'Oh boy, I hope this truck doesn't have a rifle rack on the back window, you know?'

"But a black man got out, he had on workers' overalls. And he said, 'Are you A.P Tureaud?' "

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When Tureaud said yes, the man went back to his truck and got his 7-year-old son.

"And he says, 'I want him to meet you, because I want him to know that this is possible for him — to come to this school — thanks to you,'" Tureaud says.

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"Wow," Walkley says.

"So, after I composed myself, I said to him, 'You've just ruined my day! I want to get out, I want to get out — and now I can't,' because I became the symbol of integration.

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"I tell you, in retrospect — at 17, I grew up very quickly that year," he says.

Read and listen to the entire conversation at NPR.

In other news: Santorum on Gay Marriage: I'd Die on That Hill.

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