Skip to comments.Southern University Honors 16 Student Protesters
Posted on 05/15/2004 5:27:58 AM PDT by Theodore R.
SU honors 16 student protesters
By SCOTT DYER firstname.lastname@example.org Capitol news bureau
Forty-four years after expelling them for protesting three racially segregated restaurants in Baton Rouge, Southern University honored 16 former students as heroes Friday.
"Sixteen of our young people had the courage to sit at segregated lunch counters and to dare the laws of this state," Southern University Chancellor Ed Jackson said at Friday's commencement.
"Some of them went to jail, and all of them, unfortunately, were expelled from the university," Jackson said.
The Baton Rouge protests laid the legal groundwork for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that desegregated private restaurants.
"They sat down so we could stand up," Jackson said.
Not only were the 16 students expelled from Southern University, but the state also blocked them from transferring to other public colleges in Louisiana.
Thirteen students were invited to Southern University's spring commencement Friday to receive honorary undergraduate degrees.
The remaining three expelled protesters will get honorary law degrees at the Southern University Law Center commencement today.
A number of the students who were expelled in the 1960 sit-ins wound up enrolling in out-of-state schools. One of them, Kenneth Lavon Johnson, said he views the honorary degrees as a delayed victory.
"The university has finally admitted that we did something other than what we were charged with," said Johnson, who bounced back from his expulsion to become a circuit court judge in Baltimore.
Johnson noted that the former protesters were all expelled for conduct bringing disgrace to university. "And today we are being honored for conduct that brought favor to the university, even though it was same act," Johnson said.
"What I hope it shows is that you can stand against what you perceive to be an evil and you can lose, but tomorrow you may still win," Johnson said.
Johnson blames former Gov. Earl K. Long for pressuring the former state Board of Education and Southern University leaders into expelling the students.
Long "said if we wanted to do any good, we should go back to Africa," Johnson said.
But Johnson said he was disappointed that Southern University President Felton Clark did not stand up to the political pressure.
Clark died in 1970, but one of his top assistants during the protests recalls that the former president didn't have any choice.
Elton Harrison, who was Southern University's dean of instruction in 1960, said Clark encouraged students to get into civil-rights issues and told professors not to penalize students for missing class to participate in the protests downtown.
Harrison said he was with Clark when the all-white Louisiana Board of Education ordered Clark to expel all the students who took part in the protest.
"I remember that by the time we left the meeting, he (Clark) was in tears. It wasn't his choice to expel those students. The board made him do it," Harrison said.
The 13 former student protesters honored at Southern University's commencement Friday were John Garner, Vernon Jordan, Janette Hoston Harris, Jo Ann Morris, Marvin Robinson, Felton Valdry, Mary Enola Briscoe Kamaini, Eddie Brown, Col. Lawrence Hurst, Mack Jones, Sandra Ann Jones, Larry Nicholas and Charles Peabody, who is deceased.
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