hayden -- lift every voice

'Life Every Voice' is the name of Frank Hayden's sculpture that stands in front of Southern University's Smith-Brown Memorial Union, commemorating Denver Smith and Leonard Brown who were killed by police during a peaceful protest in 1972.

This is the column I’ve written for many years around this time. I wish there was something new to report, but sadly no such luck. However, I still find it worth mentioning as often as I can.

Tuesday, Nov. 16, will mark the 49th year since students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown were killed on Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus. They were part of a nonviolent protest where students were seeking better educational conditions on the Scotlandville area campus.

Both Smith and Brown were unarmed, as were the rest of the students, and in no way threatening to law enforcement facing the students near the school’s administration building.

The general notion is they were killed by law enforcement officers on campus to control and break up the protest. No one has ever been arrested for the killings, which were supposed to be the result of a single shotgun blast.

Some have claimed the killing was an accident. There have been others who said it was intentional. If indeed it was an accident, it’s interesting that both were accidentally shot in the head, which is definitely an attempt at a kill shot.

The late Tolor White, a longtime Southern administrator, told a reporter about the incident, “You were caught in a situation where parents had sent their children ... and their children would never go home.”

Weeks after the deadly shooting, federal and state government officials and the media basically moved on. No arrests. Nothing to see here. The mood, let’s turn the chapter.

Over the years, accounts of the killings have cropped up in a few special news reports, but nothing of significance has surfaced.

Twenty years after the murders, the university did name its student union to honor Smith and Brown. I hope every incoming freshman is required to hear or read the story about why the building is named for the two. I hope they understand the horror and cruelty of the killings.

Additionally, in 2017, the University awarded Smith and Brown posthumous degrees. I can get with that. What about scholarships in their names?

As a freshman student on the campus on that cool morning in 1972 and witness to the events, I feel obligated to continue mentioning their deaths, always hoping that someone would confess or someone would tell the truth about what happened.

While I never took a class with them, I feel they were my classmates — my brothers — and I feel obligated to continue keeping their names in the public eye.

If the weapons of those law enforcement officers had been turned toward where I and friends were standing that day, one of us could have been among the dead or wounded.

I continue to hope that the story at Southern can been picked up again by reporters. The trail is cold, but it’s not frozen. Something could develop. You never know. You never give up.

We all can continue to hope. Sometimes, I guess, hope is all that justice can depend on.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.