I was in a funk on Wednesday morning. I was again reliving one of the worst days in my life. I always remember Nov. 16 that way.
I was agonizing about what I was going to write on Facebook about how law enforcement officers killed Southern University students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown on Nov. 16, 1972.
I feel compelled to remind people every year on the anniversary of the killings, and it always makes me sad. Luckily, my day did not dissolve into a puddle of sorrow. It did get better. More on that to come.
Smith and Brown were freshmen, like me, on Southern’s campus on that day when East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputies came on campus with both a tank and an armored personnel carrier to deal with students who had peacefully occupied the administration building.
It was the culmination of weeks of student unrest about financial conditions, leadership and other concerns at Southern. Students and even some faculty were frustrated.
There were a couple hundred students scattered in groups outside of the Administration Building protesting but not threatening anyone. The biggest weapon the students had was their voices.
Suddenly the crisp, cool morning, alive with the shouting of students, was broken by what sounded like gunfire. How could that be? It had to be tear gas.
Students started to run, only to discover quickly what had happened. Smith and Brown lay on the ground. Both appeared dead. Both were shot in the head.
It was an assassination of innocent students exercising their right to assemble. Amazingly, no one was ever charged in the shooting. And, there is little doubt that the shooters were law enforcement officers.
Every year on the anniversary of the deaths, I have to mention that it is a disgrace that someone knows who killed those two young men and won’t say a word. They are as cowardly and complicit as the killer or killers.
Like so many others, I support the belief that local and state government and law enforcement officials never wanted to find the shooter or shooters. It was a sad and shameful point in the history of Baton Rouge and Louisiana.
You hear about Black Lives Matter today. During those years, black lives seldom mattered when they ended at the hands of law enforcement officers. Although I never met Smith or Brown, I will never forget them.
Just as I was finishing my comment for Facebook, my phone rang. It was my son, and it was midmorning. He normally does not call me in the morning. Like most parents, I had an uneasy feeling that something bad had happened.
I was relieved when his voice appeared chipper and excited. I discerned from background sounds that he might have been in a car.
“Dad, what are you going to be doing in July?” he asked. Shoot, I don’t know what I will be doing next week.
“Why?" I asked. “What’s going on then?
I thought he was planning a family get-together. But it was another kind of event he was about to tell me about.
“Get ready, because that's when we are going to have a baby boy,” he said excitedly.
Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the gloom I had felt just a minute earlier gave way to joy. All I could do was smile and laugh. Anyone passing my office would have thought someone had just told me the funniest joke of all time.
This was perfect. I had just seen my two other grandchildren on Saturday, and visiting with them had buoyed me for several days.
So, in the midst of reflecting on one of the saddest days of my life, here was this incredible news. I had teased my son, Daniel, a while back about what was taking him and his wife, Lindsey, so long to have children.
This was a sobering moment. Just as I was thinking about the sadness of the deaths of Smith and Brown, I get a message about the upcoming arrival of life.
In a span of minutes, I remembered two lives stolen and a new life that will carry my last name. All in all, Nov. 16, 2016, was a much better day than Nov. 16, 1972. I will always remember both.
Email Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.