Louisiana governor apologizes for 1972 deaths of 2 students

Nov 17, 2022, 4:26 PM | Updated: 5:05 pm
FILE - National Guardsmen and state troopers stop all traffic trying to enter the campus of Souther...

FILE - National Guardsmen and state troopers stop all traffic trying to enter the campus of Southern University at Baton Rouge, La., Nov. 17, 1972. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued an official apology for the deaths of two students who were shot by a law enforcement officer 50 years earlier during a protest at Southern University. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell, File)

(AP Photo/Jack Thornell, File)

Louisiana’s governor has issued an official apology for the deaths of two students who were shot by a law enforcement officer 50 years ago during a protest at Southern University.

The fatal shooting of Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, both 20, occurred Nov. 16, 1972, after weeks of demonstrations by students protesting poor funding, inadequate services and the disparity of educational opportunities in the state. Edwin Edwards — the governor at the time — sent police officers to break up the protests, The Advocate reported.

The officer still hasn’t been identified, and no one was ever prosecuted for the killings.

“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,” current Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has no direct relationship to Edwin Edwards, said in a formal letter of apology. “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 2017, the Southern University System board’s academic affairs committee voted to award Brown and Smith posthumous degrees.

All week, Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College — which is the largest historically Black college or university in Louisiana — has held events in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the students’ deaths.

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Louisiana governor apologizes for 1972 deaths of 2 students