In 1972, students at historically Black Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, mounted a protest against poor living conditions in residence halls, low-quality cafeteria food, and the lack of academic programs that were relevant to its student body.
The protests lasted for more than a month. Students boycotted classes and held a sit-in in the end zone during a home football game. On November 16, student protesters were confronted with tear gas canisters that they threw back at police. During an ensuing melee, two students were shot and killed. None of the police officers faced criminal charges. Four student leaders were arrested, expelled from the university, and banned from campus.
In a 2019 documentary film entitled Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities aired on PBS. It included a segment on the incident. Michael Cato, a former student who was interviewed for the film, said “They were exercising their constitutional rights. And they get killed for it. They die. Nobody sent their child to school to die. It shouldn’t have happened.”
In 2017, the two students who were killed were awarded posthumous degrees. Now, 50 years after the incident, the Southern University Board of Supervisors has voted to end the campus ban of the students who were expelled.