On this day in 1968:
The Orangeburg massacre is the most common name given to an incident on February 8, 1968, in which nine South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, fired into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against segregation at a bowling alley near the campus of South Carolina State College, a historically black college. Three men were killed and twenty-eight persons were injured; most victims were shot in the back. One of the injured was a pregnant woman. She had a miscarriage a week later due to the beating by the police. It was the first such unrest on a university campus resulting in deaths of protesters.
The event pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which the National Guard at Kent State, and police and state highway patrol at Jackson State killed student protesters demonstrating against the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
In February 1968, black students were prohibited from entering the All Star Bowling Lane, a privately held facility on US 301 (now SC 33) and the only bowling alley in town. It was owned by the late Harry K. Floyd, who admitted only whites. The students protested at the door but were turned away. In the next two days, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley.
That night, students on campus threw firebombs, bricks and bottles, and started a bonfire. As police attempted to put out the fire, an officer was injured by a thrown object. The police later said they believed they were under attack by small arms fire. A newspaper reported, “About 200 Negros gathered and began sniping with what sounded like ‘at least one automatic, a shotgun and other small caliber weapons’ and throwing bricks and bottles at the patrolmen.” Similarly, a North Carolina newspaper reported that week that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.
Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but threw objects and insulted the men. Evidence that police were being fired upon at the time of the incident was inconclusive, and no evidence was presented in court, as a result of investigations, that protesters were armed or had fired on officers. The officers fired into the crowd, killing three young men: Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, both SCSU students; and Delano Middleton, a student at the local Wilkinson High School. Twenty-eight other persons were injured during the shooting or afterward by blows from police batons or other action.
At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was “…one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina”. McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power agitators and said the incident took place off campus, contrary to the evidence.
The federal government brought charges against the state patrolmen in the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. All nine defendants were acquitted.
In a state trial in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of a charge of riot related to the events, for events on Tuesday at the bowling alley (the protest was on Thursday night). He served 7 months in state prison, getting time off for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC. Twenty-five years later, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina.
List of those involved:
Highway Patrol personnel involved in the shooting
Patrol Lieutenant Jesse Alfred Spell, 45
Sgt. Henry Morrell Addy, 37
Sgt. Sidney C. Taylor, 43
Corporal Joseph Howard Lanier, 32
Corporal Norwood F. Bellamy, 50
Patrolman First Class John William Brown, 31
Patrolman First Class Colie Merle Metts, 36
Patrolman Allen Jerome Russell, 24
Patrolman Edward H. Moore, 30
Patrolman Robert Sanders, 44 - was not charged in the massacre, but reportedly later made self-incriminating statements about having shot at some of the rioters.
Samuel Hammond Jr., 18
Delano Herman Middleton, 17
Henry Ezekial Smith, 19
Patrolman David Sheally – His being injured preceded police opening fire on the crowd
Cleveland Sellers, 23 – Was later arrested and convicted of starting the riot. Received a full pardon in 1993.
Herman Boller Jr., 19
Johnny Bookhart, 19
Thompson Braddy, 20
Bobby K. Burton, 22
Ernest Raymond Carson, 17
Robert Lee Davis Jr., 19
Albert Dawson, 18
Bobby Eaddy, 17
Herbert Gadson, 19
Samuel Grant, 19
Samuel Grate, 19
Joseph Hampton, 21
Charles W. Hildebrand, 19
Nathaniel Jenkins, 21
Thomas Kennerly, 21
Joseph Lambright, 21
Richard McPherson, 19
Harvey Lee Miller, 15
Harold Riley, 20
Ernest Shuler, 16
Jordan Simmons III, 21
Ronald Smith, 19
Frankie Thomas, 18
Robert Watson, 19
Robert Lee Williams, 19
Savannah Williams, 19
John Carson – was beaten by highway patrol after he started questioning their involvement.
Louise Kelly Cawley, 27 – Beaten and sprayed with a chemical, Cawley was trying to take the injured to the hospital. She had a miscarriage a week later.
John H. Elliot – on the 40th anniversary of the event, Elliott was added to the list of those injured. He said he was shot in the stomach that night but did not go to the hospital for treatment.
This was the first incident of its kind on a United States university campus. The Orangeburg killings received relatively little media coverage. The events predated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which protesters against the Vietnam War were killed by National Guard, and local and state highway police, respectively. The overreaction by law enforcement helped galvanize public opinion against the war as well.
The historian Jack Bass attributed the discrepancy in media coverage in part due to the Orangeburg incident occurring after large-scale urban riots, which made it seem small by comparison. It may not have been considered as newsworthy, especially as the shootings occurred at night, when media coverage, especially any television news, was less. In addition, the victims at Orangeburg were mostly young black men protesting local segregation. Linda Meggett Brown wrote that subsequent events in the spring of 1968: the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic presidential candidate; and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, overshadowed the events at Orangeburg.
At Kent State, by contrast, Bass noted that the victims were young white students protesting the U.S. war in Vietnam, which had become increasingly unpopular and a highly politicized, national issue. They were attacked by members of the National Guard, which the media may have judged as a more inflammatory aspect of the shootings. The black students at Jackson State were also protesting the war, and the killings there took place shortly after those at Kent State. It appeared that law enforcement and university administrations had no idea about how to handle campus unrest. There was widespread public outrage about the events.
South Carolina State University’s gymnasium is named in memory of the three men who were killed. A monument was erected on campus in their honor and the site has been marked. All-Star Triangle Bowl became integrated. The Floyd family still owns and operates the business.
In 2001 Governor Jim Hodges attended the university’s annual memorial of the event, the first governor to do so. That same year, on the 33rd anniversary of the killings, an oral history project featured eight survivors telling their stories at a memorial service. It was the first time survivors had been recognized at the memorial event. Robert Lee Davis told an interviewer,
“One thing I can say is that I’m glad you all are letting us do the talking, the ones that were actually involved, instead of outsiders that weren’t there, to tell you exactly what happened.”
The state general assembly passed a resolution recommending that February 8 be a day of remembrance for the students killed and wounded in the protest.
(original newspaper headline)