Fifty-one years after the tragedy of the Orangeburg Massacre, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said the struggle for social justice is still in full force.
At Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium, South Carolina State University hosted a commemorative event on Friday, the anniversary of the Feb. 8, 1968, incident that left three students dead and 28 injured. Crump was the keynote speaker.
“Today is yet another day in the struggle for the liberation of black people,” Crump said in his address.
Citing a history that permitted slavery and segregation, Crump said the laws today reinforce racial injustices, albeit in subtler ways like the mass incarceration of black people in America and the exoneration of police officers involved in the killings of black citizens.
“Understand that these laws are targeted for our children and they are using this intellectual justification of discrimination to criminalize a whole generation of black bodies,” he said.
Crump has worked on several cases involving police brutality against black Americans, including the case of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a police officer in 2012.
“Dr. King said when you see that, count it injustice,” Crump said. “You have an obligation to do something, anything.”
He charged the parents in the audience to become mentors and leaders in any capacity to their young ones who, he said, are the leaders of the next revolution.
The youth have to be well-equipped to fight against the institutions that support racial injustice.
“Not with guns and bullets and any other weapons of violent destruction,” Crump said, “but arm them with education and intellect and diplomacy and strategy and, above all else, courage.”
He highlighted the important role young college students played in the Civil Rights Movement. The Orangeburg Massacre happened on the university’s campus, where Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond and Henry Smith were killed by gunfire from state troopers during a protest over segregation at a Russell Street bowling alley.
In an interview after the event, Crump said, “When you look at how these three young men were killed, it reminds you of what's happening in America today.”
But he said he the youth today are doing a great job of using technology to create and control content that combats racial injustice.
“The revolution will be televised, and it will be streamed live. That's what I get from the young people,” he said.
Using all the affordances of modern technology to fight for social justice was also a main point for Zachary Middleton, Delano Middleton’s grand-nephew.
In his address to the audience, Zachary Middleton emphasized the importance of controlling one’s own narrative, something he said was lacking during the civil rights era.
The media described the massacre as a riot started by armed college students. Cleveland Sellers was wrongfully arrested and charged with inciting a riot. He served seven months in prison but was fully pardoned by the governor of South Carolina 25 years later.
Zachary Middleton encouraged S.C. State students to research and educate themselves with the right resources in order to be aware of the racial and social issues today.
He said, “Whatever you do, I want you to work from the love and not for the likes.”
For their contributions to social justice work, the university presented Social Justice Awards to Crump; Orangeburg City Mayor Michael Butler and acclaimed artist Leo Twiggs.