Pillars of Progress added to Louisiana Civil Rights Trail
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the Louisiana Office of Tourism and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Thursday unveiled the ninth marker along the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail at the Pillars of Progress on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
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 (SLI). 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 September 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.
“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. 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,” Nungesser said.
“We are honored to be a part of the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail,” said Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president. “The marker unveiled today recognizes the courageous students whose admission to SLI created a better future for those who followed. 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 Louisiana Civil Rights Trail brings together the events of the 1950s and 1960s that placed the state of Louisiana at the center of the national Civil Rights Movement and narrates the compelling stories and experiences of the people who dedicated themselves and their lives to making civil rights real in Louisiana.
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.
About the Markers
The Civil Rights Markers are life-sized metal figures that are cut from steel, weigh over 200 pounds and stand over 6 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.
The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail
The trail is a cultural tourism product that informs, inspires, and invites visitors to experience and explore Louisiana’s prominent role in the modern movement. The trail reveals inside stories and examines the civil rights era from culture and commerce to desegregation, protests, and confrontations. Two years in the making, the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail was developed with community vision and public submissions from across the state. Twenty-two meetings were held in every region of the state and university scholars and subject matter experts reviewed all submissions. To learn more about the unique and important history of the movement in the State of Louisiana or to nominate a site, a person, or an activity for inclusion, visit LouisianaCivilRightsTrail.com.
Photo caption: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the Louisiana Office of Tourism and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Thursday unveiled the ninth marker along the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail at the Pillars of Progress on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. From left are Josh Guillory, Lafayette mayor-president; Nungesser; state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux; Joyce Constantine Henson, the sister of Clara Dell Constantine; Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of Lafayette Travel; and Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)