Gov. Edwards Signs Formal Apology for the Unjust Killings of Southern University Students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown on the 50th Anniversary of their Deaths

Published 9:57 am Thursday, November 17, 2022

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In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the tragic deaths of Southern University students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown and the nine student leaders who were banned from entering the campus of Southern University as a result of what happened on Nov. 16, 1972, Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a formal letter of apology to the students and their families.

“Fifty years after the senseless tragedy of Nov. 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.”

On the morning of Nov. 16, 1972, after weeks of ongoing protests, students at Southern University and A&M College bravely and peacefully gathered in Baton Rouge to protest the disparity of educational opportunities in Louisiana. That morning, Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, both just twenty years old, were senselessly and unjustly killed when a law enforcement officer, who was never identified or prosecuted, fired into a crowd of students fleeing from tear gas. In the aftermath, the Louisiana State Board of Education unjustly and unduly punished nine student leaders involved in that protest, who comprised the leadership of Students United at Southern University. Although many of them went on to achieve professional success, they still suffer from the trauma of what happened. This formal apology seeks to rectify the historic injustice that was perpetrated that day.