February 8, 1968: The Orangeburg Massacre


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


On February 8, 1968, a civil rights protest at South Carolina State got out of control and turned deadly. Highway patrolmen opened fire on the crowd, filled with about 200 unarmed black student protestors.


Three men were killed and 27 more were wounded.


The Orangeburg Massacre is known as one of the most violent episodes of the civil rights movement, but is not largely recognized or known about.


BACKGROUND AND THE MASSACRE (1)


Several incidents lead up to the eventual massacre, occurring at the local All-Star Bowling Lanes, which was segregated.


In the fall of 1967, some black leaders in the area tried to convince alley owner Harry K. Floyd to allow black people inside the establishment, but he refused.


Protests against the bowling alley began in February of 1968. On February 5, 3 days before the massacre, a group of 40 students from the University entered the bowling alley to peacefully protest, and left peacefully when they were asked.


The next night, protestors entered again, lead by John Stroman. However, this time, despite their peaceful protesting the night before, police were waiting for them, and many were arrested, including Stroman.


And so more protestors came, both protesting the alley's segregation and the arrests of the fellow protestors. At one point, someone in the crowd broke a window, and chaos ensued. Police began beating protestors, both men and women, with billy clubs, landing 8 students in the hospital.


Over the next few days, tensions in the city were high. Students had submitted a list of demands, attempting to eliminate discrimination in the community. The South Carolina governor, instead of speaking with the leaders, called the National Guard, saying the Black Power advocates were running amok in the city.


And so, on the night of February 8, 200+ (mostly) students gathered on campus to demonstrate against segregation at the bowling alley and in the city. They began a bonfire at the front of campus, and while officers and firefighters tried to put it out, an officer was injured by a heavy wooden bannister that was thrown in his direction.


Shortly after his injury, patrol officers began firing into the crowd, using carbines and shotguns and revolvers for 10-15 seconds. The protestors ran. Most of the people who were shot had gunshot wounds to their backs because they were running away as they were shooting.


Three people were killed.


The policemen said that they thought they were being attacked, and many papers made it out as if the protestors shot first, while they insisted they did not. They admitted to throwing things into the crowd and insulting the officers, but they said they did not have any guns and no evidence was found to support that the protestors shot first.


REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS


Samuel Hammond Jr. was an 18-year-old freshman at South Carolina State when he was killed. (2)


He had 2 younger sisters who called him "Bubba". He taught them how to bike and how to swim. He was passionate about football, often crying when his team would lose. He dreamed of a career in the NFL. (2)


His mother had to be sedated when she found out that her son had died. His father had to go to Orangeburg to identify him and collect his things. Hammond's sisters said that after his funeral was the first time they ever saw their father cry. (2)


Zenobbie Clark, one of his sisters, said: "You know, we had four cousins that went to war and all came back unscathed. Bubba went to college, and Bubba came home in a box." (2)


Henry "Smitty" Smith was friends with Richard Reid, a student who, 50 years later, wrote his memories of the events. He remembered being so angry when he found out that Henry had been killed. (3)


He lived across the hall from Richard, and he remembered always joking around. He said that Smitty would often throw water on him in the shower, and he would have to run away so fast because he was bigger than him. (3)


He was in the ROTC program. (4)


Delano Middleton was not even a student at South Carolina State - he was still in high school. His mother worked as a maid for the University, so he would often go visit her at work. (4)


He was a football and basketball standout at his high school, and was 4 months away from graduating. He planned to go to SC State to play football. (5)


AFTERMATH


The following day, the Governor held a press conference, saying it was "one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina." He blamed the deaths on agitators of Black Power, and, despite evidence otherwise, said the event took place off-campus. (1)


The federal government brought charles against the state patrolmen in what was the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. (1)


Their defense was that they felt that they were in danger, that a gunshot from the crowd had gone off, alerting them to a threat. (1)


All 9 patrolmen were acquitted, even though there were 36 witnesses stated that they did not hear any gunfire from the protestors, and nobody was found to have been carrying a gun. (1)


Now, today, 52 years later, statues of the three men have been added to campus to help remind students of the tragedy that took place on the campus. Over 100 people came to the unveiling, including loved ones of each of the victims. (6)


Hammond's cousin remembered how he was a charismatic, handsome football lover who was "more than capable of devouring an entire tray of his grandmother's biscuits."(6)


Middleton's niece, who never got to meet her uncle, called for the audience to honor his legacy by continuing to fight for civil rights, even now, 52 years later. (6)


Smith's niece spoke of his involvement in civil rights as a calling from God, refusing to just speak out, but to intercede. (6)


The statues are currently at an on-campus memorial for the massacre, but once it raises enough money, they'll move to a more permanent location. (6)


In 2015, the University began awarding the Smith Hammond Middleton Justice award, given to people who have worked to eliminate injustice. (6)


REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangeburg_massacre

2. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126399280

3. https://thetandd.com/news/reflections-years-after/article_55beb07b-3f06-5b5a-8476-d72808cde5d0.html

4. https://www.sciway.net/afam/orangeburg-massacre.html

5. https://www.scsu.edu/news_article.aspx?news_id=347

6. https://www.thestate.com/news/local/article240082383.html

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