Gov. John Bel Edwards apologizes to families of two Southern students gunned down during 1972 protest

Published: Nov. 16, 2022

By: Drew Hawkins and Claire Sullivan | LSU Manship School News Service

Gov. John Bel Edwards apologized Wednesday on behalf of the state to former Southern University protest leaders and the families of two Southern students shot and killed on campus in 1972. The governor then signed a proclamation formalizing the apology. Credit: Allison Allsop/LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards apologized Wednesday (Nov. 16) on behalf of the state to former Southern University protest leaders and the families of two Southern students who were killed by an unidentified sheriff’s deputy 50 years ago.

“To the extent that the state of Louisiana can try to make this right, that’s what we’re gonna try to do,” Edwards said at an event at the Old State Capitol building to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the shooting.

Edwards said that on the morning of the shooting, students “bravely and peacefully” protested the disparities of educational opportunities in Louisiana.

He said the nine protest leaders who were banned from Southern’s campus following the protests were “unjustly punished.” He said he wanted “to make amends to those who were victims to injustices perpetrated by the state,” including the families of Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, the two 20-year-old students who were shot and killed.

He said wished to “recognize the lost potential of the lives” of the two young men.

The governor then signed a proclamation formalizing the apology.

Read more at Verite News

Pain, lessons remain decades after Southern shooting

Published: Nov. 14, 2022

By: Claire Sullivan, Brittany Dunn, Shelly Kleinpeter And Allison Allsop | LSU Manship School News Service

Last in a four-part series

Shunda Wallace was 3 months old when her father, Leonard Brown, and another student, Denver Smith, were shot dead by a sheriff’s deputy on Southern University’s campus in Baton Rouge in November 1972.

Fifty years later, Wallace still does not know who killed her father. The anger and the grief for a dad she never got to know burn in her, especially when her 18-year-old daughter, Raven, asks questions she cannot answer.

“I tell people, don’t ever say you don’t miss something that you didn’t have,” she said. “And I tell people all the time, something was taken from me at a very early age that was senseless.”

In the aftermath of the shooting lay a future marked with grief for family members of the victims and a period of uncertainty for protest leaders, who were expelled from SouthernBut the protests also helped produce some of the changes that the students wanted to see. And the shooting brought to the fore questions about excessive police force that still haunt Baton Rouge and the nation today.

The shooting came after several weeks of protests and class boycotts over what the students saw as poor funding, dilapidated buildings and little response to their concerns.

Read more at Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting

Without an eyewitness in Southern University shooting, the FBI turned to polygraphs, angle of shot

Published: Nov. 6, 2022

By: Drew Hawkins, Adrian Dubose, Allison Allsop and Alex Tirado | LSU Manship School News Service

Third in a four-part series.

At 12:35 p.m. on Nov. 17, 1972, the phone rang in the office of acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray in Washington.

It was Deputy Attorney General Ralph Erickson, calling to order an investigation into the shooting of the two students at Southern University amid a cloud of tear gas 25 hours before.

FBI officials quickly made plans to send dozens of agents from across the country, including some who had investigated shootings at Kent State and Jackson State. The first group arrived in Baton Rouge two days later, setting up in the Capitol House Hotel, a white-painted, square brick building downtown.

“It took us just overnight to set up the office,” said Jack Stoddard, an agent from Philadelphia. On Monday morning, Nov. 20, he said, “assignments were given out.”

Within three days, the FBI knew that the students, Denver Smith and Leonard Brown, had been killed by a single blast of buckshot – and that the shot had likely been fired by one of the East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies near a palm tree in front of the school’s administration building.

Medical examiners removed 17 tiny shotgun pellets from the men’s bodies. Three more pellets had dented the wall of the building right behind where the men were hit as they ran from the tear gas.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser

As gas clouds cleared, two lay dead. A sister wondered, ‘Why? Why?’

Published: Nov. 2, 2022

By: Drew Hawkins, Adrian Dubose, Maria Pham and Annalise Vidrine | LSU Manship School News Service

Second in a four-part series (Read part one here.)

The knock on the door came at 4 a.m.

Rickey Hill and Herget Harris, two protest leaders at Southern University, peeked out and saw sheriff’s deputies outside their apartment.

Hill had been arrested the week before for disrupting the campus. Now, on Nov. 16, 1972, the deputies were looking for Harris and others in their Students United protest group.

Harris jumped out a rear window to avoid detection. After the deputies left, he and Hill learned in a hurried call that Fred Prejean, a 25-year-old community activist, and three other students were being taken to jail.

Hill and Harris decided to ask Southern’s president, George Leon Netterville, to secure the students’ release. As they and their supporters walked toward the two-story brick administration building around 8 a.m., students ran up to find out what was going on.

“So they followed,” Harris said, and “the following grew as we continued on.”

By 8:30 a.m., 75 students were outside the building – some members of Students United, others just curious onlookers. Netterville, who was fed up after weeks of demonstrations and boycotts over the quality of education at Southern, agreed to let Hill, Harris and three others into his wood-paneled office.

Read more at Verite News

For two families, a Southern University education meant everything. Then came tragedy.

Published: Oct. 30, 2022

By: Claire Sullivan, Brittany Dunn, Shelly Kleinpeter and Annalise Vidrine | LSU Manship School News Service

First in a four-part series.

Josephine and Denver Smith took different approaches to protests at Southern University in the fall of 1972. Josephine skipped class for meetings, while her older brother stayed away and warned her to be careful.

The pair had grown up with 10 other siblings in a tiny sharecropper’s house near New Roads, Louisiana, where they picked cotton in the hot sun and harvested pecans to help make ends meet. When they were not working, they fished, swam by the river levee and, not having paper, scratched their multiplication tables in the dirt with sticks, the oldest checking the work of the youngest.

Despite their modest finances, one thing was always certain: They would go to college.

One by one, the siblings enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Denver was the third to go, followed by Josephine the next year. And while Josephine lived in a dorm amid the growing campus ferment, Denver – 5 feet, 9 inches and slim – walked each morning to a white-framed Catholic church, where he hopped on a school bus for the hour-long journey southeast to Baton Rouge.

The protests at Southern in October and November 1972 echoed what was happening around the United States in an era of civil rights and anti-war activism. Southern — the main campus in a university system that had the most significant number of Black students in the country — had its own history of activism that began with lunch counter sit-ins. By 1972, many of its 9,000 students in Baton Rouge were tired of what they saw as poor funding and teaching, dilapidated buildings, and a lack of responsiveness to their concerns.

From those frustrations came weeks of protests, class boycotts, and demands for a change in the school’s leadership. Rather than sticking with negotiations, university officials repeatedly summoned sheriff’s deputies and state troopers onto campus—and a standoff between roughly 150 students and 85 heavily armed officers on Nov. 16 ended in tragedy.

Amid the chaos and tear gas, a single blast of buckshot fired by a deputy from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office killed two 20-year-old men in a stream of fleeing students.

Read more at Shreveport Times

Louisiana lawmakers began studying state’s taxes

Published: Nov. 1, 2022

By: Molly Ryan, LSU Manship School News Service

The Louisiana State Capitol is framed by a large oak tree at sunset on Capitol Lake, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Baton Rouge, La. (Photo by Hilary Scheinuk, The Advocate)

BATON ROUGE, La. – With no personal income tax and booming economies, Texas, Florida and Tennessee are once again drawing attention from Louisiana lawmakers who are wondering if eliminating income tax could create the same boom in their state.

During a House Ways and Means Committee meeting in September, lawmakers began studying the state’s taxes as part of a House resolution passed earlier this year. It tasks the committee with making recommendations to the Legislature about Louisiana’s tax structure, including the state income tax.

Rep. Richard Nelson, a Mandeville Republican and the son of an IRS agent, argued that rebuilding the state’s tax structure and eliminating the income tax is necessary to make Louisiana more competitive and attract investment.

He points out that Texas and Florida grown in population six times faster than Louisiana.

“When you look at the state, and you look at the trajectory that we’re going, I think the tax structure in Louisiana is one of the fundamental things that’s holding us back,” Nelson said.

Read more at KTBS

Louisianans have sought to tame the Mississippi River for decades. Now they may set it free.

Published: Sep. 26, 2022

By: Oscar Tickle

Don Beshel on the balcony of his marina near Point á la Hache, as a shrimp boat leaves one morning in April 2022. Beshel’s Marina is near Mardi Gras Pass, a breach in the Mississippi River levee that occurred naturally in 2011. (Credit: Oscar Tickle/LSU Manship School News Service)

POINT À LA HACHE – Don Beshel walks out of his office and looks out on his marina. Where once were dozens of boats now sit only a few. The levee has more boats washed up from flooding than line his docks.

The air here used to have salty undertones. Now fresh water from the Mississippi River has mixed with salty water from the Gulf. The air is now stale – along with Beshel’s business.

He blames a breach in the levee downriver back in 2011. Before the breach, oysters and saltwater fish like mullet thrived around his marina. Now the water brims with different kinds of fish. The old marsh is gone, replaced by a nearly unrecognizable landscape lined with rows of black-willow trees. Boats cannot find their way out of the marsh due to silt dumped by fresh water from the breach.

Beshel’s world is changing around him. For the people upriver in the Barataria region of the river delta, things are about to change, too, as scientists and others implement a plan to restore something of the untamed river of the past – and blunt coastal erosion often blamed for increasing the impact of hurricane storm surges on New Orleans and other cities.

Read more at Louisiana Illuminator

Access to original birth certificates restored for adoptees in Louisiana

Published: Aug. 1, 2022

By: Alex Tirado

Rebecca Browning at 17 years old with her adoptive parents Lillian Beale and Thomas “Buff” Beale(Courtesy of Rebecca Browning / LSU Manship School News Service)

BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School New Service) – Living almost seven decades without any information about her birth, Rebecca Browning never thought she would learn more about where she came from.

Now, thanks to a bill passed during the 2022 legislative session, Browning is able to access a key to her past.

House Bill 450, now Act No. 470, took effect Monday, and it allows adopted persons 24 years of age or older to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate.

Browning was adopted at six months old from Catholic Charities in New Orleans. She grew up in Baton Rouge and remembers a fairytale kind of life spent playing in the front yard with her sister, dancing with her parents in the living room and roasting marshmallows in the fireplace.

As much as Browning adored her adoptive parents and her life, she is excited to know more about portions of her life left unanswered.

Read more at KALB

Candidates may substitute computer coding for foreign language

Published: June 7, 2022

By: Piper Hutchinson

The Louisiana Legislature approved a bill from Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, that allows TOPS candidates to choose between two units of foreign language or computer coding to qualify for the scholarship. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator

The Louisiana Legislature signed off on a bill Monday that would allow students to substitute computer coding for a foreign language when being considered for TOPS eligibility.

Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would amend the requirements for eligibility for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students to allow them to count two credits of computer coding in high school instead of two credits of a foreign language.

The House voted 54-41 to approve the bill after a conference committee removed an amendment by Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, which had changed the bill from allowing coding as a substitute for a foreign language to allowing those classes to be counted under the science requirement.

The conference report was also sustained by the Senate Monday on a 34-0 vote.

Read more at Longview News-Journal


Published: June 6, 2022

By: Piper Hutchinson and Alex Tirado, LSU Manship School News Service

Gov. John Bel Edwards held a press conference Monday shortly after the Legislature concluded its 2022 regular session.
LSU Manship School News Service/Alex Tirado

BATON ROUGE – As the Legislature adjourned Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed his support for the investments in education and infrastructure, including a teacher pay raise of $1,500 and $300 million toward a new Mississippi River bridge.

But he also announced that he would acquiesce in one area that he has disagreed with Republican lawmakers saying he would allow a bill that prohibits transgender athletes from competing according to their gender identity to become law without his signature.

Edwards vetoed a similar measure last year, but he said that he decided not to veto the latest ban, Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, because he knew that the Legislature could override the veto this time.

“I hope we can all get to a point soon where we realize that these young people are doing the very best that they can to survive,” Edwards said.

As the session’s 6 p.m. deadline approached, legislators spent the day debating, rewriting, and passing some of the remaining bills.

Read more at St. Mary Now