Orangeburg massacre

Orangeburg massacre
Weapons Revolvers, shotguns, police batons, thrown objects
Deaths 3
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators 9 patrolmen

The Orangeburg massacre refers to the shooting of protesters by South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on the South Carolina State University campus on the evening of February 8, 1968.[1] The approximately 200 protesters had previously demonstrated against racial segregation at a local bowling alley. Three of the protestors, African American males, were killed and twenty-seven other protesters were injured.[2]

The event pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which the National Guard at Kent State, and police and state highway patrol at Jackson State, killed student protesters demonstrating against the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.


Faded and rusting sign in parking lot: at top, triangular sign with "All Star"; below that, very faded "Bowling"; below that, "All Star Triangle Bowl"; below that, fresher signs with names of current tenants: Ross Centre, The Word Ministry, The Thrift Store, Everything & Anything, and the phone number 803-534-4550
All-Star Bowling Lane sign in 2015

There were several incidents centering on the segregation of the local bowling alley, All Star Bowling Lane, that led up to the Orangeburg Massacre on February 8, 1968. In the fall of 1967, some of the black leaders within the community tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of the bowling alley, to allow African Americans. Floyd was unwilling to desegregate; as a result protests began in early February 1968.

On February 5, 1968, a group of around forty students from South Carolina State University entered the bowling alley and left peacefully after they were asked to leave by Floyd.[3] The next night more students led by John Stroman returned and entered the bowling alley. This time there were police waiting for them and several students were arrested, including Stroman. After the arrests, more students began showing up, angry that protesters were being arrested. Next the crowd broke a window of the bowling alley and chaos ensued. Police began beating student protesters (both men and women) with billy clubs. That night, eight students were sent to the hospital.[4]

Over the next couple of days the tension in Orangeburg escalated. Student protesters submitted a list of demands that consisted of integration and the elimination of discrimination within the community. The Governor of South Carolina at the time, Robert E. McNair, responded by calling in the National Guard after commenting that black power advocates were running amok in the community.[5] Over the next two days, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley.


On the night of February 8, 1968, students started a bonfire on the front of SC State's campus. As police and firefighters attempted to put out the fire, officer David Shealy was injured by a thrown object.[6] Shortly thereafter (around 10:30 p.m.) South Carolina Highway Patrol Officers began firing into the crowd of around 200 protesters. Eight Patrol Officers fired carbines, shotguns, and revolvers at the protesters, which lasted around 10 to 15 seconds. Twenty-seven people were injured in the shooting; most of whom were shot in the back as they were running away, and three African American men were killed.[7] The three men killed were Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith (both SCSU students), and Delano Middleton, a student at the local Wilkinson High School. Middleton was shot while simply sitting on the steps of the freshman dormitory awaiting the end of his mother's work shift.

The police later said that they believed they were under attack by small arms fire. A newspaper reported, "About 200 Negros [sic] 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."[8] Similarly, a North Carolina newspaper reported that week that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.[9]

Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but threw objects and insulted the men. Evidence that police were being fired upon at the time of the incident was inconclusive, and no evidence was presented in court, as a result of investigations, that protesters were armed or had fired on officers.


At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was " of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina".[10] McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power 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 federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. The state patrol officers' defense was that they felt they were in danger and protesters had shot at the officers first. All nine defendants were acquitted although thirty-six 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.[11]

In a state trial in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of a charge of riot related to the events on February 6 at the bowling alley. He served seven months in state prison, getting time off for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC. Twenty-five years later, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina.

List of those involved



  • Herman Boller Jr., 19
  • Johnny Bookhart, 19
  • Thompson Braddy, 20
  • Bobby K. Burton, 22
  • Ernest Raymond Carson, 17
  • John Carson
  • Louise Kelly Cawley, 25
  • Robert Lee Davis Jr., 19
  • Albert Dawson, 18
  • Bobby Eaddy, 17
  • John H. Elliot
  • Herbert Gadson, 19
  • Samuel Grant, 19
  • Samuel Grate, 19
  • Joseph Hampton, 21
  • Charles W. Hildebrand, 19

  • Nathaniel Jenkins, 21
  • Thomas Kennerly, 21
  • Joe Lambright, 21
  • Emma McCain, 19
  • Richard McPherson, 19
  • Harvey Lee Miller, 15
  • Harold Riley, 20
  • Cleveland Sellers, 23
  • Patrolman David Shealy
  • Ernest Shuler, 16
  • Jordan Simmons III, 21
  • Ronald Smith, 19
  • Frankie Thomas, 18
  • Robert Watson, 19
  • Robert Lee Williams, 19
  • Savannah Williams, 19

Highway Patrol personnel


Media coverage

This was the first incident of its kind on a United States university campus. The Orangeburg killings received relatively little media coverage. The events predated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which protesters against the Vietnam War were killed by the National Guard, and by the local and state highway patrol, respectively. The perceived overreaction by law enforcement helped galvanize public opinion against the war as well.

The historian Jack Bass attributed the discrepancy in media coverage in part due to the Orangeburg incident occurring after large-scale urban riots, which made it seem small by comparison. It may not have been considered as newsworthy, especially since the shootings occurred at night, when media coverage, especially any television news, was less.[6] In addition, the victims at Orangeburg were mostly young black men protesting against local segregation.[6] Linda Meggett Brown wrote that subsequent events in the spring of 1968—the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic presidential candidate, and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam—overshadowed the events at Orangeburg.[12]

At Kent State, by contrast, Bass noted that the victims were young white students protesting against the U.S. war in Vietnam, which had become increasingly unpopular and a highly politicized, national issue. They were attacked by members of the National Guard, which the media may have judged was a more inflammatory aspect of the shootings. The black students at Jackson State were also protesting against the war, and the killings there took place shortly after those at Kent State. It appeared that law enforcement and university administrations had no idea about how to handle campus unrest. There was widespread public outrage over the events.


See also


  1. Shuler, Jack (2012), Blood & Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town, Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, p. 21
  2. "28th Name Added To Massacre List 40 Years Later", Fox Carolina News, 2008.
  3. Baumgartner, Neal. " Delano Herman Middleton, Samuel Ephesians Hammond, Jr., and Henry Ezekial Smith." Jim Crow Museum. 2013. Web Access 28 October 2016.
  4. Shuler, Jack. Blood & Bone, pp. 75–78.
  5. Shuler, Jack. Blood & Bone, p. 81.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Bass, Jack (Fall 2003). "Documenting the Orangeburg Massacre" (PDF). Nieman Reports. Harvard University. 57 (3): 8–11.
  7. Shuler, Jack. Blood & Bone, p. 18.
  8. "Press dispatches" (February 21, 1968). "Riot Quelled at Negro College". The Milwaukee Journal.
  9. Ford, Robert M. (February 8, 1968). "Three Persons Killed in Orangeburg Riots". The Times-News. Hendersonville, North Carolina. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  10. "Uneasy Calm Enforced After Days of Rioting". Middlesboro Daily News. February 10, 1968. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  11. Shuler, Jack. Blood & Bone, pp. 19, 84.
  12. Linda Meggett Brown, "Remembering the Orangeburg Massacre", Black Issues in Higher Education, March 1, 2001. Accessed April 1, 2005.
  13. "Name on Orangeburg Massacre Monument Finally Fixed". WLTX News. August 11, 2013.
  14. South Carolina General Assembly, S. 377, introduced in the Senate on February 18, 2003.
  15. South Carolina General Assembly, S. 215, introduced in the Senate on January 12, 2005.
  16. South Carolina General Assembly, H. 3824, introduced in the House on March 29, 2007.
  17. South Carolina General Assembly, S. 35, introduced in the Senate on January 9, 2009.
  18. Arango, Tim (April 16, 2008). "Films Revisit Overlooked Shootings on a Black Campus". The New York Times.
  19. "Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre, 1968". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  20. "Black Magic". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 24, 2015.

Further reading


Coordinates: 33°29′43″N 80°51′17″W / 33.4952°N 80.8547°W / 33.4952; -80.8547

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