Before the unarmed student protesters were killed at Kent State in 1970, also before two black men were killed at Jackson State in Mississippi days later, and before Dr. King’s assassination in April of 1968, there was South Carolina’s own version of excessive force by law enforcement and the killing of unarmed black youth.
Idealistic protesters determined to make a point and highlight the segregation or more correctly, the banning of black people from a public establishment protested. Local law enforcement’s obvious support of a Bowling Ally’s owner and his refusal to serve black patrons was the heart of the confrontation. Protesters continued to march at the bowling ally until they were physically assaulted by the police. The first night eight students were sent to the hospital. On campus, at South Carolina State, students rallied to demonstrate against segregation.
In the days following the February 8, 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, the National Guard left town, the funerals for the three murdered unarmed protesters (two who were students of South Carolina State University) were held, the newspapers wrote, and later discovered, inaccurate accounts of the event. One newspaper reported that there was sniper fire directed at the police, which was wrong. As is customary, law enforcement accused the protesters of having weapons, none were ever found, and no police were charged in the killing of the unarmed. As was typical of the era, the governor and elected officials blamed the Massacre on “outside agitators”. The families of Middleton, Hammond and Smith, the three young African-American men killed by law enforcement, has never had closure as to who or why there children and loved ones were executed.
The youth of today have been taught at least a few lessons. Namely, the civil rights soldiers of past struggles were fearless and on the right side of history, injustice in any decade, is still injustice and that power controls the justice system. Which leaves us with the obvious questions that still remain. Who does law enforcement serve and protect? To what extent is force justified against protesters? Does society choose the side that’s right or does the wealthy and the media make that decision? Inaccurate accounts of the Massacre in Orangeburg and others are seldom corrected by the media. Leaving the public record in most cases just as the powerful and perpetrators of the violence planned and the true accounting of facts relegated to “folk lore”. Posterity now has personal recordings, to record the facts were “main stream” media often has gotten it wrong. Challenging the press to get the news and for that matter history told correctly.
Every year since the Massacre there has been a memorial, a remembrance of those times in 1968 when yet another town’s youth made a statement for human and civil rights.
Twenty five years after the Massacre in Orangeburg, the only person to get arrested and sentenced to prison time (serving nine months) was pardoned by the governor. In 2008, that protester became the president of a state college. The Eagle Scout and Howard University graduate is the guest speaker at recent memorial ceremonies.