An Orangeburg native uses his new book to explore his hometown's efforts at reconciliation following the event that has come to be known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
Jack Shuler says "Blood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town" examines, "how Orangeburg has dealt with the massacre - or not- as well as the relationships between the event and the long history of race and violence in South Carolina.
"I wanted to talk to folks in the community in order to understand what that history means to them, how they've reconciled it or not."
On Feb. 8, 1968, three students were killed and 28 others were injured when S.C. Highway Patrol troopers opened fire on a crowd of protesters following three nights of escalating racial tension over efforts to desegregate the All-Star Triangle Bowl.
South Carolina State College sophomore Henry Smith, S.C. State freshman Samuel Hammond Jr. and Wilkinson High School student Delano B. Middleton died in the incident.
Shuler, an American literature teacher at Denison University in Ohio, said his latest book was particularly close to him.
He interviewed more than 30 people from the Orangeburg community, along with Denmark resident Dr. Cleveland Sellers and former S.C. Law Enforcement Division Lt. Carl B. Stokes, for the book. It explores how Americans remember the Orangeburg Massacre, the meaning it holds for them and what it means for the future of South Carolina and the nation.
The patrolmen involved in the incident were exonerated. Sellers, a protester who was wounded during the event, was the only person ever convicted of a crime in connection with the events of 1968. He was pardoned by Gov. Carroll Campbell in 1993.
Shuler, the son of Orangeburg couple John and Jane Shuler, is also the grand-nephew of the late Capt. J.C. Pace. Pace was a state highway patrolman on duty that fateful night in 1968.
"He was not one of the people who fired, but he was on duty that night. I interviewed my great-uncle the summer before he passed away. I also interviewed people from my own parents' generation. I was blown away by the honesty, people willing to talk to me," Shuler said.
"I think for better or worse, it helped being from Orangeburg. I think it might have opened doors that wouldn't have been opened for other people. Longtime Orangeburg residents Mary Williams and Geraldyne Zimmerman, who have both passed away, were also interviewed, along with Ashley Till, an archivist at S.C. State University.
"What I was doing was telling my story and the stories of those that I interviewed. I was not trying to write a definitive history of the Orangeburg Massacre. This book is more about what happened next and even what happened before the Orangeburg Massacre. What was it like to make something like that happen in a place like Orangeburg?"
He said the book is not only about Orangeburg and the South, but the nation.
"It's about how Americans can deal with those issues (of race and violence) even in small towns like Orangeburg. It's also a book about how a place is a part of you, and how the things that happen in that place are a part of you, too, whether you like it or not," he said.
"They're a part of your make up, and the title kind of comes from this idea. Those things are kind of your blood and bone."
He said capturing the "voice of the people" in Orangeburg and showing how he has grappled with the issues of race and violence were two things he wanted to accomplish with his book.
"Talking about race is not easy. Talking about violence is not easy. It's hard and makes people feel uncomfortable, but I don't think it should be easy. I realized that I was actually writing about my own process. I was learning about Orangeburg and its history and having that history challenge me. People that I talked to challenged me very much," Shuler said.
"I sort of connected with that and addressed the elephant in the room in 1968. It still weighs heavy on the community whether people would like to deal with that or not. If we can't deal with our history on a personal level, we'll never do it at all," he said.
His original intent was to start reading groups in Orangeburg to connect people more with the events of 1968.
"I think there was an assumption that I was going to come in and do this ... and people were going to talk about it, but I was completely humbled. People were already having these conversations, and they were doing it in their own way," he said.
While Orangeburg is a different place than it was in 1968, there are still challenges to overcome, Shuler said.
"Every place has issues that it needs to address. There are people that remain that don't feel like justice has ever really been served. There's a part of me that can understand that. When someone says, ‘This is what I saw and experienced,' I wasn't there and can't say they didn't. But from the interviews, this affected the National Guardsmen, too," Shuler said. "I think it affected everyone."
He said his conversation with Zack Middleton, the grand-nephew of Delano Middleton, was inspiring.
"Zack was a compelling person. He had just been elected student body president at S.C. State University. He's an idealist, intellectual and someone who saw a lot about the past and his family's past," Shuler said.
"He's someone who wants to make the world a better place. I was humbled by that and think all of his intentions came from a sincere place," he said.
For more information on the book, visit www.sc.edu/uscpress.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org and 803-533-5534.