NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The history behind a bell that stood in front of Tulane University’s McAlister Auditorium has prompted university officials to remove it.
In a letter emailed to the Tulane community, President Mike Fitts and Board Chairman Doug Hertz said they were informed last week that the “Victory Bell” was originally used to direct the movements of enslaved people on a plantation, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.
“It is terribly disheartening to learn that it is, in fact, a vestige of a horrific part of our nation’s past,” the letter said. “Now that we understand its history as an instrument of slavery, continuing to use this bell in a celebratory manner would run counter to our values.”
The Victory Bell was cast in 1825 and donated by Richard W. Leche, a former Louisiana governor and a Tulane law school graduate, according to a recent student guidebook. A close ally of former Gov. Huey P. Long, Leche resigned his office and was sent to federal prison on corruption charges before being pardoned by President Harry Truman and returning to his New Orleans law practice, according to a biography published by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
The bell arrived on Tulane’s campus in 1960 and stood in front of Fogelman Arena. There it stood for decades and was rung after Tulane basketball victories until the tradition “fell into disuse,” according to the guidebook. In 2011, the bell was refurbished, moved to the front of McAlister and dedicated to Tulane fan Robert “Bobby” J. Boudreau.
In the letter, Fitts said the bell was moved to storage Thursday while the university investigates its origins. The school plans to form a special committee to recommend what will replace the bell in front of the auditorium, near the center of the New Orleans campus.
“As an academic institution, we believe it is important to find a way to use this bell to further our knowledge and understanding of slavery and pursue a more just society,” the statement said.
The decision to remove the bell comes amid a broader push by universities across the U.S. to confront their historic ties to slavery and white supremacy.
In their statement, Fitts and Hertz said it is important for universities to be vigilant in examining their beliefs and practices.
“Although we have made real progress in building a university that better reflects our community and our highest values, the bell’s newly-discovered past is a powerful reminder that the most tragic and painful elements of our nation’s history continue to echo through our communities,” the statement said.