BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Today marks the 50th anniversary of two Southern students, who were shot to death, while at a peaceful protest.
Students that were there still have questions about what happened.
Southern University held a serious conversation about what took place right here on the campus of Southern University 50 years ago. Leonard Brown and Denver Smith were only 20 years old when they lost their lives while peacefully protesting. They were boycotting for equity in education. “They didn’t deserve any of that,” said Edward Pratt, a 1975 Southern graduate.
In 1972, Brown and Smith along with other students, were in front of Southern’s administration building protesting. They were wanting the release of students that were arrested for violating state laws when law enforcement showed up. Officers used tear gas — students that were there say they don’t know why it was used on them.
“Number one, we didn’t take over the administration building. Number two, we came to the building to act as a net, to be able to go downtown and get the students out of jail,” said Rick Hill, a retired professor. “On the 16th, we came to the administration building to ask President Netterville to get the students out of jail. He said he would. You can wait here, I’ll be back, he says then about 20 minutes or so later, we heard the commotion outside.”
All these years later, the name of the shooter has still not been released. Rick Hill was the student body vice president when the killings happened — the state banned him from campus, for his involvement in the protest. The Southern University Board overturned the ban recently but he still has questions.
“We have not talked to anybody in any official capacity, formal or informal about lifting the ban,” Hil says. “They haven’t gotten in touch with me. We know what’s been put in the media, but we have no idea what that actually means,” he continued.
Hill and the Director of the Student Union, Cedic Noel, believe it is up to the next generation to learn the history and to continue fighting for what’s right.
“To make sure that we don’t let these students’ names be forgotten. This building that we are currently standing in is named after those students because those students paid a debt to everyone. Better resources, better opportunities, not just for themselves, but for the future as well,” he stated.
They say they will continue to have the hard conversations until justice is served for those involved and for the families of Leonard Brown and Devin Smith.