Much has happened in Edward Pratt’s life since he graduated from Southern University, Baton Rouge’s historically black institution of higher education, in 1975.
After a long newspaper career, he took several public relations jobs, including a stint as SU’s spokesman. Pratt, a 63-year-old husband, father, and grandfather, now works in Louisiana state government and keeps his hand in newspapering as a weekly columnist for his hometown paper, the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Despite the decades that have passed since his time as a Southern student, Pratt mentally revisits the campus every autumn when a grim memory resurfaces.
During Pratt’s first semester at Southern, on November 16, 1972, he was nearby as two fellow students were shot to death during a campus protest. The confrontation between unarmed student protesters and dozens of law enforcement officers, which included men in military-grade gear and an armored car, “was like something out of a bad dream,” Pratt says. An official inquiry traced the gunfire to a group of local sheriff’s deputies who had responded to the demonstration. Students who witnessed the protest, including Pratt, said it had been peaceful, which made the use of force baffling.
No one was ever charged in connection with the incident, which left freshmen Denver Smith and Leonard Brown dead from shotgun wounds. The deaths have haunted Pratt ever since.
He recalls the date of the shootings almost as easily as his birthday or wedding anniversary. Pratt wants others to remember, too—so much so that he typically writes about Smith and Brown each November for his newspaper column or on social media.
“I owe it to Smith, Brown, and their families to remember them,” Pratt wrote last November in his Advocate column. “I was a fellow freshman, and we were in college and had big dreams. They never got to chase theirs.”
Pratt’s efforts to keep Smith and Brown in public memory have now gotten a big boost…