|Death: ||Feb. 8, 1968|
South Carolina, USA
The Orangeburg Massacre:
The shootings occurred on February 8, 1968, two nights after an effort by students from an almost all all-black college to bowl at the city's only bowling alley. The owner refused. Tensions rose and violence erupted. When it ended, nine students and one city policeman received hospital treatment for injuries. Other students were treated at the college infirmary. College faculty and administrators at the scene witnessed at least two instances where a female student was held by one officer and clubbed by another. In total, 28 students were injured and three were dead.
After two days of escalating tension, a fire truck was called to douse a bonfire lit by students on a street in front of the campus. State troopers—all of them white, with little training in crowd control—moved in to protect the firemen. As more than 100 students retreated inside the campus, a student tossed a banister rail which struck one trooper in the face. He fell to the ground bleeding. Five minutes later, almost 70 law enforcement officers lined the edge of the campus. They were armed with carbines, pistols and riot guns—short-barreled shotguns that by dictionary definition are used "to disperse rioters rather than to inflict serious injury or death." But theirs were loaded with lethal buckshot, which hunters use to kill deer. Each shell contained nine to 12 pellets the size of a .32 caliber pistol slug.
As students began returning to the front to watch their bonfire go out, a patrolman suddenly squeezed several rounds from his carbine into the air—apparently intended as warning shots. As other officers began firing, students fled in panic or dived for cover, many getting shot in their backs and sides and even the soles of their feet.
Survivor Robert Lee Davis recalled in his oral history project (link to video ) interview: "The sky lit up. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! And students were hollering, yelling and running. I went into a slope near the front end of the campus, and I kneeled down. I got up to run, and I took one step; that's all I can remember. I got hit in the back."
Later, Davis lay on the bloody floor of the campus infirmary, head to head with victim Samuel Hammond, a friend and quiet freshman halfback who was also shot in the back, and watched him die. Victim Henry Smith, a tall, slender ROTC student who had called his mother at two a.m. to tell her about the "shameful" beating of the female students by policemen, died after arriving at the hospital with five separate wounds. Victim Delano Middleton, a 200-pound high school football and basketball star whose mother worked as a maid at the college, died after asking her to recite the 23rd Psalm for him and then repeating it himself while lying on a hospital table with blood oozing from a chest wound over the heart.
Of 66 troopers on the scene, eight later told the FBI agents they had fired their riot guns at the students after hearing shots. Some fired more than once. A ninth patrolman said he fired his .38 caliber Colt service revolver six times as "a spontaneous reaction to the situation." At least one city policeman—he later became police chief—fired a shotgun.
Two and a half years after the shooting, a jury in Orangeburg convicted Cleveland L Sellers, Jr. of "inciting a riot" because of limited activity at the bowling alley two nights before the shooting. Sellers, who had grown up 20 miles from Orangeburg, had returned from the Deep South combat zone of the civil rights struggle as national program director for the militant Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The presiding judge threw out charges of conspiracy to riot and incitement to riot, but the charge of riot stood. He served seven months of a one-year sentence in state prison with early release for good behavior.
On July 20, 1993 the state's Probation, Pardon, and Parole Board voted unanimously to pardon Sellers after a staff investigation recommended it. On the Sunday after Sellers' pardon, South Carolina's largest daily newspaper, "The State " in Columbia, SC said in its lead editorial that the pardon "was long, long overdue," but represented "a significant step toward reconciliation and the healing process." Link to The State's archive of stories relating to the Orangeburg Massacre.
Created by: Tonya Sapp Hames
Record added: Feb 07, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 24454539