Nov. 16, 1972
A law enforcement officer shot and killed two students at Southern University in Baton Rouge after weeks of protests over inadequate services.
When the students marched on University President Leon Netterville’s office, Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards sent scores of police officers in to break up the demonstrations. A still-unidentified officer shot and killed two 20-year-old students, Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, who weren’t among the protesters. No one was ever prosecuted in their slayings.
They have since been awarded posthumous degrees, and the university’s Smith-Brown Memorial Union bears their names. Stanley Nelson’s documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” featured a 10-minute segment on the killings.
“They were exercising their constitutional rights. And they get killed for it,” former student Michael Cato said. “Nobody sent their child to school to die.”
In 2022, Louisiana State University Cold Case Project reporters, utilizing nearly 2,700 pages of previously undisclosed documents, recreated the day of the shootings and showed how the FBI narrowed its search to several sheriff’s deputies but could not prove which one fired the fatal shot. The four-part series prompted Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to apologize to the families of the victims on behalf of the state.
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