1968 gets a lot of focus as a year that shook the nation. Yet in most accounts, you’ll find the trauma of Feb. 8, 1968, to be just a footnote. Not so in Orangeburg, where the magnitude of the Orangeburg Massacre led to it being designated as the story of the century when the newspaper marked its 100th anniversary in 1981.
On the 50th anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre this week, it’s time the nation and the world know more about what happened here a half-century ago. The best-known reporting comes from a book by journalists Jack Bass and Jack Nelson. Its title became the name for what happened here a half-century ago: “The Orangeburg Massacre.”
There are many other accounts, from survivors, law officers, witnesses, journalists and historians. There are many differences of opinion, much speculation and even open disagreement about the events and why they occurred.
Following through on a pledge made by Orangeburg leaders, business people and citizens 20 years ago after the 30th anniversary produced great angst and bitter debate, The Times and Democrat on this Sunday is not focused on conflicting accounts.
Because generations of people here and far beyond have little or no knowledge of the Orangeburg Massacre, our approach on this anniversary is educational. Page 1A and two inside pages today feature a story by retired South Carolina State University historian Dr. William Hine, who has done extensive research over many years about S.C. State, Orangeburg and the events of February 1968.
At the request of the newspaper, he wrote the account that we submit should now become required reading about the Orangeburg Massacre. We thank you, Dr. Hine.
Photographs accompanying the article come from The Associated Press and noted Orangeburg civil rights photographer Cecil Williams, the author of four books complete with hundreds of photos documenting Orangeburg’s significant role in the civil rights era. The publications, from which the newspaper frequently publishes images, deal extensively with the Orangeburg Massacre. To Cecil Williams, we also say “thank you.”
What happened on Feb. 8, 1968, in Orangeburg is a part of history, but its lessons are not to be relegated to books. It was a different time – a time when laws, societal norms and people’s behavior were different than 2018. Yes, race issues – and even racism – exist today, but the segregation that still existed in 1968 made for a place and time about which few can relate now.
The overriding fact from an incident in which state highway patrolmen opened fire with shotguns on protesting students at S.C. State, killing three and wounding 28 others, is and always will be: What happened should not have happened as no one in the United States should be made to pay with life and limb for exercising the right to freedom of expression.
Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond and Delano Middleton will live forever as martyrs for the cause of equal rights for all. They are to be remembered and the loss of their lives forever mourned. Their legacy is one of change and a better way and better day.
And 2018 is a better day. Many tests of racial harmony have come and gone in Orangeburg – and there surely will be more. But this is a community far different from 50 years ago – a place pledged to remember dark days of the past, looking to be sure mistakes are not repeated and the future is bright for all. It can be reality.