Obscuring Tulane's Confederate Past

Notwithstanding that Paul Tulane did not appear on the scene until 1881 and that Tulane University of Louisiana was not chartered until 1884, there is a widespread misunderstanding, reinforced by misleading historical accounts provided by Tulane officials, that Tulane was founded in 1834.  The following instances (of many) illustrate the point.

"Tulane was established in 1834, with 11 students and 7 faculty in a rented hall..." [1]

"...J. L. Ridell, professor of chemistry, built the first successful binocular microscope at Tulane in 1852." [2]

The source of this ambiguity is an apparent desire of Tulane administrators to obscure the university's Confederate origins.  Hence the misconception that the seven physicians who met in 1834 to discuss the training of physicians to serve a city plagued with cholera and yellow fever were planning an institution whose destiny was the future Tulane.  In fact, as described by historian John Dyer, the institution they planned was the Medical College of Louisiana, chartered in 1835, whose destiny was to become a major component of the University of Louisiana, chartered in 1847 [3].

The misrepresentation of Tulane's founding is reinforced by such programs as the "1834 Society," an exclusive club that raises money to support the Tulane University Health Sciences Center [4].  Tulane officials also mischaracterized Tulane University of Louisiana to editors of The Columbia Encyclopedia as "...opened 1834, chartered 1835 as a state medical college." [5].  In The Princeton Review, their description begins: "Founded in 1834 in New Orleans..." [6], and in an effort to further inculcate its revisionist history, Tulane administrators in 2006 named a newly-constructed student gathering place (which replaced the former "Rathskeller") the "1834 Club" [7].

"Half the work that is done in this world is to make things appear what they are not."
-- Elias Root Beadle

While Dyer artfully blends events of the final years of the University of Louisiana with the initial years of the Tulane University of Louisiana to create an image of evolutionary transition, the takeover of the public institution by the Tulane board was more of an abrupt leap [8].  Its impact, however, was blunted by board members of the public institution and members of the state legislature who sympathized with the segregationist objectives of the Tulane board.

Tulane has also attempted to obscure its Confederate origins by actively participating in efforts to close the Confederate Museum in New Orleans, an important custodian of records and artifacts related to the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

"Who controls the present controls the past."
-- George Orwell, in 1984
The Confederate Museum

Recent history of the Confederate Museum is replete with the intrigue, chicanery, and back-room maneuvering that makes political deal-making in New Orleans a feast for connoisseurs of local history.  For details, the reader is referred to a summary compiled by the Confederate Museum and reprinted here [9].  Following is an interpretation of events as tempered by information not considered in that report.

In the late 1880s, Frank T. Howard, a wealthy New Orleans philanthropist, purchased a parcel of land upon which he erected two buildings: a library to house a collection of books and manuscripts (the Howard Memorial Library) and a museum dedicated to the preservation and display of Confederate artifacts (the Confederate Museum).  In 1891, the museum building was donated to the Louisiana Historical Association, the forerunner of Memorial Hall Museum, Inc. which now operates the Confederate Museum.

By the 1940s, the holdings of Howard Memorial Library had outgrown the available space and were donated to Tulane University, which assumed the function of the Howard Memorial Library Association and still houses the collection for research purposes.  The building itself was sold first to the Times-Picayune, which used it as a radio station (WTPS), and then in the 1980s to oilman Patrick F. Taylor.  He renamed the building the Patrick F. Taylor Library and in the early 1990s donated it to the University of New Orleans Foundation (UNO Foundation) together with property he had acquired adjacent to the Confederate Museum.

When the UNO Foundation decided to build the five-story Stephen Goldring Hall on that property adjacent to the Confederate Museum in order to house the art collection of real estate developer Roger Ogden, a plan was hatched to acquire the neighboring Confederate Museum, evict its occupant, and incorporate that building into the foundation's plans for an extended art museum.

William ("Bill") Goldring, an emeritus board member of the Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund and a major contributor to Tulane, helped finance and was the driving force behind the construction of Stephen Goldring Hall, a structure named for his father [10].  Goldring is now chairman of the board of trustees of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art [11].  Goldring's associate, Herschel L. Abbott, Jr., another Tulane supporter [12], is also a board member of the UNO Foundation, and it seems likely that they with others were involved in the scheme to dispossess the Confederate Museum, which entailed the exchange of $425,000 between Tulane and the UNO Foundation.

Briefly, the UNO Foundation paid Tulane $425,000 for a document Tulane received when it acquired the collection of the Howard Memorial Library and which it now claimed gave it rights to the Confederate Museum.  The UNO Foundation then used the "purchase" to claim ownership of the Confederate Museum and announced its intention to evict the occupants and use the structure for its own purposes.  On its face, these claims were outrageous.  However, the maneuver forced the issue into court where Tulane would have the clear advantage.

On July 19, 2002, Civil District Judge C. Hunter King ruled that the operators of the Confederate Museum no longer owned the building at 929 Camp Street, which had housed the country's second largest collection of Civil War memorabilia for the past 111 years [13].  The museum's appeal to Louisiana's Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was heard on December 4, 2002 by a three-judge panel that included Judges Joan Armstrong and Patricia Murray, whose allegiance to Tulane is well known.  They upheld King's ruling and added that Frank T. Howard never donated the building to the museum's original operators.

Notwithstanding the court's ruling, Governor Mike Foster and Patrick Taylor intervened to broker a compromise that finally brought the parties to respect one another's legitimate rights [14].  However, uncertainties remained because of the election of a new governor in November, 2003, the death of Taylor [15], and continued challenges to the legality of state funding for the private Ogden Museum [16].

On August 23, 2003, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art opened its doors to the public [17], and later that year, Roger Ogden was honored with an A.I. Botnick Torch of Liberty award [18].

Judge C. Hunter King was eventually indicted for extortion and perjury in connection with his campaign for reelection, and on October 21, 2003 he was removed from the bench by the Louisiana Supreme Court [19].  While a full accounting of his case was kept from the public by sealed records, King's integrity was clearly compromised at the time of his ruling in the Confederate Museum case [20].

The secrecy surrounding Judge King's indictment was already suspicious.  However, in a stunning exercise of judicial authority, Judge Julian Parker, who presided over his trial, ordered that King's guilty plea be set aside (equivalent to an acquittal) and that his conviction be expunged from all public records [21].  Parker's stated rationale was that King had been "set up" by the court reporter who had submitted recorded evidence of King's wrongdoing to the state judiciary commission [21].

  1. Aaron S. Allen, "Greening the Campus; Institutional Environmental Change at Tulane University," Tulane Environmental Studies Program, 1999, p. xiii.

  2. "Tulane University - A Brief History," Judicial Affairs (http://www.studentaffairs.tulane.edu/ judicial/policies_procedures/History.htm), accessed 12/25/04 (remove space from URL).

  3. John P. Dyer, Tulane: The Biography of a University, 1834 - 1965, Harper & Row Publishers, New York and London, 1st Ed., 1966, Chap. 2, pp. 18-46.

  4. "Contributing to TUHSC," Health Sciences Annual Fund, (http://alumni.hsc.tulane.edu/gift_opps.shtml), accessed 1/18/05.

  5. "Tulane University of Louisiana," The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001 (http://www.bartleby.com/65/tu/TulaneUn.html), accessed 1/28/05.

  6. "Tulane University; What Tulane Says About..." The Princeton Review, (http://www.princetonreview.com/...), accessed 8/23/05.

  7. Catherine Freshley, "University center ready for action; Lavin-Bernick Center ribbon-cutting scheduled for Dec. 6 and move-in planned for January," The Hullabaloo (Tulane University), November 17, 2006, http://www.thehullabaloo.com/..., accessed 11/27/06.

  8. Tulane is the only American university to have been created through the privatization of a state university.  See: Gerald R. Ford, "Address at a Tulane University Convocation," The American Presidency Project, April 23, 1975, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=4859, accessed 09/24/08.

  9. See: "Memorial Hall News & Events," (http://www.confederatemuseum.com/html/body_news.html), accessed 1/19/05.

  10. "Top beverage distributor Stephen Goldring, 88, dies," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 15, 1997, p. B-4.

  11. "Museum," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Dec. 1, 2002, p. F-7.

  12. Both William Goldring and Herschel L. Abbott were members of Tulane's President's Council.  See: Beatrice M. Field and Amanda R. Rittenhouse, POTPOURRI, 2002 (http://alumni.tulane.edu/potpourri/) accessed 1/18/05.

  13. Bruce Eggler, "Rebel museum may have to move; UNO Foundation owns site, judge says," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 20, 2002, p. A-1.

  14. Bruce Eggler, "Confederate Museum, UNO declare armistice; Collection will stay, tunnel to be built," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, August 23, 2003, p. B-8.

  15. Stewart Yerton, "Deaths: Taylor, Patrick F.; Oilman, education advocate dies at 67," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, November 6, 2004, p. A-1.

  16. Robert Travis Scott, "Residents get help suing Ogden museum; Misuse of state funds alleged in petition," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 8, 2004, p. B-4.  See also: James Gill, "Report puts art museum's woes on display," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, October 1, 2004, p. B-7.

  17. Robert W. Merrick, "Part of Pat Taylor's vision" (letter), The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, August 24, 2003, p. B-6.

  18. "Ogden, Mintzes are named Torch of Liberty honorees; Philanthropists cited for social justice work," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, November 16, 2003, p. B-4.

  19. Gwen Filosa, "Judge is removed from bench; Supreme Court orders King's ouster for lies, misusing workers," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, October 22, 2003, p. A-1.  See also: Susan Finch, "Supreme Court raising the bar on ethics; Judges disciplined at rising rate," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, November 9, 2003, p. B-1.

  20. James Gill, "Chamber of Secrets," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 28, 2004, p. B-7.

  21. Gwen Filosa, "Disgraced judge has his criminal record expunged," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 28, 2007, National, p. 1.

Confederate Heritage
Randall Lee Gibson
The Regulators
Gideon Gibson
U. of LA Board
Tulane Board
Leland University
Tulane's Racist Legacy
Confederate Museum
Frank T. Howard
LA Legislature
Act 43 of 1884
Desegregation of Tulane