One of the most stirring tragedies of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s took place in the small town of Orangeburg in South Carolina. On this day in 1968, police officers fired in to a crowd of Black students protesting segregation, killing three and wounding 28 others, in what has been called the “Orangeburg Massacre.”
After Black students were denied entry to the Whites-only All Star Bowling Lane alley and began protesting at the establishment’s door, the students — now numbering into the hundreds — gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University to demonstrate against the bowling alley. The students were raucous and sparked a bonfire, with the group throwing firebombs and other objects. As an officer put out a fire, he was hit with an unknown object. Police claimed to hear gunfire and began to fire in to the throng.
The police killed three persons that day: Samuel Hammond and Henry Smith, both students at SCSU, and Delano Middleton (all pictured above), a student at nearby Wilkinson High School. Twenty-eight others were injured by both gunfire and other weapons, including one pregnant young woman who reported having a miscarriage a week later due to beatings by police. Robert E. McNair, the governor at the time, held a press conference the next day and blamed the police killings on outside Black militants and off-campus protests contrary to what was originally reported.
Watch this video on the Orangeburg Massacre here:
Noted activist and former National Director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Cleveland Sellers (pictured at right) was arrested and tried on charges not related to the event and for actions at the All Star bowling alley. Sellers served seven months and was officially pardoned by the state more than two decades later.
Today at SCSU, the school’s gymnasium is named for the three young men killed that day. It was also reported that the state passed a resolution to mark February 8th as a day of remembrance for those who were murdered. As expected, the “Orangeburg Massacre” received very little national media coverage and justice was delayed and most certainly imbalanced.
Sellers would later graduate from Harvard in 1970 before earning a doctorate at the University of North Carolina in education.