The school offered courses in liberal arts and was at the time a place black students could get a trade and improve their skills. However, the school suffered from severe lack of funding and was later reorganized in Baton Rouge under the leadership of the university’s first president, Dr. Joseph Samuel Clark. Clark, an African-American leader from Baton Rouge.
In 1921, the Louisiana Constitutional Convention authorized the reorganization and expansion of the school; Legislative Act 100 of 1922 provided that the institution be reorganized under the control of the State Board of Education. Dr. Clark presided over Southern University during the expansion. Student enrollment grew from 47 to 500, and two of the school’s early buildings were built during this time.
Dr. Clark retired in 1969 and Dr. G. Leon Netterville stepped into the president role. By 1972, a student protest ended with two students, Denver Smith and Leonard Brown shot outside the Old Auditorium (now the Southern University Museum of Art). The murders were never solved but it is known that the students were killed with buckshot, which the sheriff’s deputies were using. At the time the students were involved with “Students United,” a student activist group. The governor and sheriff’s office denied that their people were responsible for the deaths. However, the governor Edwin Edwards ordered the campus be temporarily closed, and patrolled by troops to keep the peace.
After the incident, the university consistently enrolled over 10,000 students and between 1970 and 1990 the university held the title of being the largest HBCU in the nation. Today, the Human Jukebox is the internationally renowned collegiate marching band that has been representing the university since 1947.