Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a formal letter of apology to the families of Southern University students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown, who were killed by law enforcement on Nov. 16, 1972.
Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the killings, which took place during a student protest in Baton Rouge against the disparity of state educational opportunities. A law enforcement officer – never identified or prosecuted – fired into a crowd of students fleeing from tear gas, killing Brown and Smith, both 20.
“Fifty years after the senseless tragedy of November 16, 1972, when officers wielding the power and authority of the state of Louisiana unjustly killed Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, it is time to try to make amends,” said Gov. Edwards. “In those dark times, Louisiana failed to uphold its highest ideals. And in the aftermath of that senseless tragedy, the harm to our State and to the Southern University community was exacerbated by the punishment of those students who endeavored to stand up against the unjust treatment of the Black citizens of our State. It is only right and just for the state of Louisiana, to make amends to those who were victims of injustices perpetrated by the State.”
In the letter, Edwards also apologized to the nine student leaders who were punished by the Louisiana State Board of Education after the incident and banned from entering Southern University’s campus.
The nine – the leadership of Students United at Southern University – were Louis J. Anthony; Charlene Hardnett; Frederick Prejean; Donald Mills; Herget Harris; Paul Shivers; Willie T. Henderson; Ricky Hill; and Nathaniel Howard.