February 8, 1968– The Orangeburg Massacre
This is not an Alternative Fact or Fake News.
In the fall of 1967, black leaders in Orangeburg tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of the All Star Bowling Lane, to allow African-Americans as customers. Floyd refused. Protests against the bowling alley began in early February 1968.
On February 5, a group of 40 students from South Carolina State University entered the bowling alley but left peacefully after they were asked to leave by Floyd. The next night more students returned to the bowling alley. This time the police waiting for them and several students were arrested. After the arrests, more students arrived, angry that protesters were being arrested. Police began beating student protesters with clubs. Eight students were hospitalized.
The racial tensions in Orangeburg escalated. Student protesters submitted a list of demands for integration and the elimination of discrimination within the community. The Governor of South Carolina, Robert E. McNair, responded by calling in the National Guard after claiming that Black Power agitators were ”running amok” in the community. 200 student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley.
50 years ago, on the night of February 8, 1968, students started a bonfire on the front of SCSU campus. Eight South Carolina Highway Patrol Officers began firing into the crowd of around 200 protesters. 27 protesters were shot; most of them in the back as they were running away, and three African-American men were killed: Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith (both SCSU students), and Delano Middleton, a student at the local high school. Middleton was shot while simply sitting on the steps of the freshman dormitory waiting for the end of his mother’s work shift on campus.
The local 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.”
Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers but threw objects and taunted the men. Evidence that police were being fired upon at the time of the incident was inconclusive, and no evidence was presented in court that the protesters were armed or had fired on officers.
Governor McNair blamed the deaths on outside 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 ever federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. The officers were acquitted even after witnesses stated that they did not hear gunfire coming from the protesters on the campus before the shooting and no students were found to be carrying guns.
One of the protesters, Cleveland Sellers, was convicted of starting a riot. He served seven months in state prison, getting early release for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1973, he published The River Of No Return: The Autobiography Of A Black Militant And The Life And Death Of The SNCC. IN 1998, Sellers was officially pardoned by the Governor David Beasley of South Carolina.