About Denver Smith
Massacre at Southern University
During that late 60’s and early 70’s, while the nation was coming out of the Civil Rights Movement and with an overall rise of consciousness within the Black community, several movements turned inward. Throughout the country at Historically Black Colleges and University's (HBCU’s) student activists protested to hold their administrators and boards of trustees accountable. Among other things, they demanded classes that included more content about African American history and culture.
Southern University was no different. Student activists on Southern Universities campus during 1972 held several peaceful protests that included taking over the field during a football game. As the students’ demands continued to fall on deaf ears by the governor and the university administration, demonstrations persisted.
On November 16, 1972, while students had taken over the administration building in a peaceful protest, local law enforcement responded to the university to oversee the demonstration. Law enforcement claimed to have received word that president Leon Netterville had been taken hostage by the student activists. The climate on campus grew tense.
There is a standoff between students and deputies that would lead to a gas canister being thrown by deputies to the students. This canister would be picked up and thrown back toward the deputies. This response from the protestors is said to be the trigger of an escalation of force that would lead to the death of Denver Smith and Leonard Brown. Both slain students were bystanders outside of the administration building and were completely unarmed.
The very public death of the students has foggy details. However, gunfire was traced to a group of local sheriff’s deputie’s who had responded to the demonstration. No law enforcement official has ever been held accountable for the loss of life of the two peaceful protestors.