Spaces in Hebert Hall get new names amid long controversy

Martha Sanchez, Managing Editor

Tulane University will name spaces in F. Edward Hebert Hall in honor of several civil rights pioneers after a persistent push to rename the building as a whole failed last year. 

A task force made up of students, faculty, staff and alumni collected ideas last fall and decided to honor Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, the civil rights activist who attended Newcomb College, and the “Desegregation Trailblazers”, the group of 12 students who integrated Tulane in 1963, the school announced today. 

Hall — the historian whose name activists long hoped would grace the building — created a database that identified thousands of enslaved people in Louisiana dating to the 18th century. 

The school will install signs commemorating Hall and the 12 Black students “in the coming months,” administrators said in a campus- wide email. Tulane has placed signs throughout the building that detail Hébert’s segregationist legacies in Louisiana politics. They will add more of that information soon, they said, and the changes also apply to the F. Edward Hébert Center in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. 

Tulane has not yet specified where the new names will be displayed in Hebert Hall.

The controversy over Hebert Hall stretches back years. In 2020, Tulane asked a Building Naming Task Force to decide whether the school should remove Hébert’s name. Hébert, a staunch segregationist, did not align with the school’s mission or values, that group said, so they recommended removing the name. The university agreed. 

In 2022, Tulane’s Board failed in negotiations with the Hébert family because a contract signed at the time of their donation requires his name to remain on the building forever. 

Last September, Tulane opted to add context to Hébert’s legacy and spend money on diversity, equity and inclusion measures elsewhere on campus instead of breaking the legal agreement.  

Faculty waged a quiet battle over the building’s name throughout the debates and negotiation. In 2020, history department faculty placed a banner outside that read “Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Building.” Last fall, faculty plastered Hall’s name over the Hebert signs. The changes were quickly reversed. 

The latest resistance in the ongoing saga takes a new form cats. Anonymous students have printed photographs of cats with speech bubbles critiquing the building’s segregationist namesake. On their Instagram page, the group called “The Mew Deal” describes itself as “the pawlitical protest cats of Tulane History Department.” 

On Tuesday, another sign of defiance emerged. Next to the sign name “F. Edward Hebert,” a small cutout read, “was a white supremacist.”

It has since been removed. 

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