On Feb. 8, 2013, the South Carolina State University family will observe the 45th remembrance of what has been known as the “Orangeburg Massacre.” The killing of three students and wounding of more than 30 others will never be forgotten in our nation, state and Orangeburg, and particularly at S.C. State. Each year, the remembrance program has featured students who were injured, politicians, business and civic leaders, a film, student essays, the clergy and the lighting of the memorial candles.
Over the years, the program rarely recognized some of the events prior to and after the students were killed and injured. The following is a description of two events that are unknown to most people.
n At that time, John Stroman and others spearheaded a movement to integrate the All-Star Bowling alley. On Tuesday night, Feb. 6, students gathered at the front door of the bowling alley seeking admittance to bowl. The owner, Harry Floyd, informed the students that Negroes were not allowed to bowl in his business. Suddenly, a glass window aligned to the front door was shattered. That prompted the students to run away from the business with law officers in pursuit swinging long night sticks. Some students were struck on various parts of their body; some were arrested while the rest ran back to the campus. As a result of that confrontation, students were advised to stay on the campus.
After a meeting of students in the student center on Feb. 7, 1968, around 8:30 p.m., this writer along with Aaron Purdie, Charlie Spell, Henry Bernard, Donnie Best and a few other students gathered in the fork of the road in front of Washington Dining Hall. The conversation was about our efforts to integrate the bowling alley in the A&P Shopping Center on Russell Street and what had transpired until that point.
While the students were standing around, a car was seen approaching our direction. As the car came closer, gunshots were fired from the car, which was a Dodge Dart. With the bullets zinging by, the students fell to the ground to avoid being hit. The car continued toward the library, which was under construction. Not knowing how to get around the construction, the car was seen coming back toward our location. As the car passed, the students hurled various objects at the car. Campus police chased the car toward the front of the campus. Disturbed by this event, the students returned to the dorms to tell others about what had happened.
On the next night of Feb. 8 and while gathered at the front of the campus, three students were shot and killed along with many being injured. Today that incident is known as the “Orangeburg Massacre.”
(Note: Some years later, it was learned that two white men occupied the Dodge Dart that was involved in the shooting on Feb. 7. They were chased by campus police up Highway 601 now Magnolia Street and stopped in front of the Del Morocco Club. The Highway Patrol had also joined in on the chase and car stop. The occupants were taken out of the car and searched by both agencies. The men were arrested but the gun was not found. On the next day, Feb. 8, officers searched both sides of the road from the campus to the location of the car stop with no luck in finding the gun. The charges were said to have been dropped against both subjects because of lack of evidence.)
This incident did not receive any publicity because on the next night of Feb. 8, the “Orangeburg Massacre” took place, leaving this pre-event unknown in the complete story of what happened on the campus. Looking back, if any of the students had been shot that night, in all probability, there would not have been an “Orangeburg Massacre” as we know it today.
n The second incident came about after the students returned to school when the administration and state felt the volatile atmosphere had calmed down. As the students returned, the leaders planned a march around the Statehouse in Columbia in protest of what had happened on Feb. 8. Arrangements were made to bus the students to Columbia for the demonstration.
Although, plans were made to transport the students to Columbia by bus for the protest, a splinter group of five athletes decided to take a different approach in their own way by running to the Statehouse in Columbia from the campus. Dr. Willis Ham described his involvement in a unique idea to display their feelings about what had occurred on the campus.
“The four young men who approached me about the run were all track and field distance runners. They were told by some of my football teammates that I could run all day. That I was president of the Block ‘S’ Club made me the ideal person for them to approach for help with the run. Three of the young men were not of ‘American Descent,’ and they simply wanted to express their disgust for the way Americans “treat their own,” with the one tool that they had to their credit (the ability to run).
“We wanted our fellow students to know how deeply we felt about their determination to go to Columbia; and, (with their presence and voices) express to State Officials how they really felt about the lack of support in the days leading to the Massacre; as well as, the requirement to stay at home for two weeks (to blow off some steam); as if we had been the parties at fault for the February 8th Massacre.
“Ultimately, the run became symbolic of our commitment to the message that student leaders wanted to convey; as well as, the release of pent-up frustrations from a group with a lot of youthful energy to expend. We never once thought of the run possibly being strenuous (and it was not). Instead, it gave us a chance to say that our spirits and drive for freedom from depression, would never be destroyed (not even by death within our ranks!!!). Most of all, the run was not a media ploy. We never discussed whether or not our effort would be picked up by the Press or Media. (It was all about adding depth to the message to be sent to State Officials).
“When we returned from the 42 mile run to Columbia, and the visit at the State Capitol, I went to baseball practice, as Coach Martin required. The run was a personal venture; and that was made clear before the fact.”
These are just two examples of unknown events surrounding the “Orangeburg Massacre.” Indeed, they have been permanently embedded in the minds and memory of all who were involved. In a recent conversation with Dr. Charlie Spell, he said, “for the last 45 years, I have had to live with the memory of last seeing Delano Middleton with a bullet hole in his neck near Lowman Hall.” He also said, “Other than my wife and a few others, I have never mentioned what I saw with anyone else. That incident gave us a sense of who we were and that we had power to bring about positive changes.”
The post-traumatic stress impact that was encountered by the students will live with them until the day of their demise. Unfortunately, the students of that time did not receive any professional counseling to help them cope with the memory of what they saw, heard and went through on the campus of South Carolina State University. Back in 1968, the term post-traumatic stress was not a part of our vocabulary. Therefore, the strong had to survive, while the weak fell by the wayside in dealing with any consequences of life in their future.
The students who were shot and injured are permanently scarred. And surely, the families of Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond and Delano Middleton will have to embrace a heart-wrenching memory that will follow them from generation to generation.
Richard Reid is president of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society. His mission is researching Orangeburg history, with a particular emphasis on the role of blacks in that history.