Southern University students reflect on Smith/Brown tragedy 40 years later | Events
Josephine Jones prays with her friend Brenda Glover. Emotions are still raw as she remembers that day, 40 years ago. Her brother Denver Smith and fellow student Leonard Brown were shot dead by law enforcement officials on Southern University's campus.
It happened during a student demonstration when the young men were 20 years old.
"It was like everyday I'd wake up," Jones says. "I'd say I'm going to wake up from this nightmare and all this will be behind me, but this has never really taken place. Everyday I'd wake up and it was true."
Jones was also a student at Southern and was at the protest on Nov. 16, 1972. She recently joined other classmates at the spot where it took place.
Fred Prejean was one of the leaders of the group calling itself Students United.
"I think I suffer from post traumatic stress to this day. I think of this event each and every day," Prejean says.
It's important to remember the times. It was the post civil rights era; a time of integration and Black Pride.
The Southern students were fighting for more state funding, better facilities, and a greater voice on campus. They had been protesting for about a month.
"On the morning of Nov. 16, approximately two or three in the morning, police officers arrived at my house and arrested me," Prejean says.
Prejean was among of number of student leaders arrested. Hundreds of others marched to the president's office, asking for their release. State police and East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputies were called in and a short time later tear gas filled the air and shots rang out.
"We're in the building and all of sudden we hear glass shattering and the room filling up with smoke," Glover says. "Now you're 19 and you terrified that you're being shot at."
Southern Media Relations Director Ed Pratt was a student at the time.
"When the students started running away, two bodies were on the ground," Pratt says. "I had never seen anyone shot before and I looked at them. I didn't know they had been shot. At first, I thought they were trampled."
Jones, Glover, and Prejean never returned to the university. Jones completed her studies via an extension program. Prejean filed a lawsuit to finish his degree which eventually came in the mail.
Portraits of Smith and Brown hang prominently in the Student Union which was named in their honor, in 1973, but no one has ever been arrested for their deaths. Many say that's the real tragedy.
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