The year was 1968. The community experienced one of the worst tragedies of the civil rights era when three students were killed and 28 others were wounded in the Orangeburg Massacre.
That Orangeburg County did not explode in further violence following the incident in which state troopers fired shots at anti-segregation protesters is considered miraculous to this day. To the credit of many, it did not.
And even through the ensuing years of transition with race-based battles over education, government representation and equal access, Orangeburg showed violence would not be an agent of change.
A valuable tool 50 years ago was the Orangeburg Human Relations Council made up of black and white leaders and citizens. Its goal was to promote communications and understanding in dealing with fundamental changes that are taken for granted today as the norm.
Orangeburg wants to continue as a model for change in an era that has produced new racial tensions.
That was stated in 2016 during a downtown march by a group of citizens and pastors calling for solidarity and unity following violent episodes around the country.
The Rev. H.T. Gainey of Good Shepherd Community Ministries said it is important for citizens in Orangeburg to come together and know “it’s not us against them or you against me but we are together.”
“When all groups come together on one accord with a common ground to having peace, unity and love … nothing but great results can come from it,” Gainey said.
“We want Orangeburg to be the pillar where other cities and counties across the state and nation can look and see how we’ve done it and how they can do it as well.”
The march came as Orangeburg County Council was looking at reinvigorating the process whereby people can communicate -- on any and all issues, not just race. As 2018 comes to a close, council is making reality of the Orangeburg County Human Relations Council. One final vote of approval is needed.
“It’s basically the brainchild of Councilman (Willie B.) Owens, who was basically saying that a lot of the issues and stuff that we have sometimes between certain neighborhoods, certain groups, should be assigned to the human relations council because it’ll be a group of diverse people that would have better insight on why certain things are done a certain way,” Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said.
The panel will be made up of 14 members: seven appointed from the corresponding county council districts; two members appointed from the City of Orangeburg; one member (student body president) appointed from Claflin University, South Carolina State University and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College; one member appointed from the Community of Character; and one member appointed from the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce.
The human relations council would “be given assignments to look at and prepare reports based on those assignments,” Young said. Reports and recommendations of the human relations council would be brought before the county council, which would then vote on the recommendations, he said.
“That takes the individual council group, people’s personal issues or feelings out of the way when it comes to certain things,” Young said.
Orangeburg has long been a litmus test regarding issues of community and race relations. It is a role that we should continue to welcome in striving to be a model of how a community can work harmoniously for the good of all.
Further direct communication among and leadership by people of good will via the Orangeburg County Human Relations Council will enhance the effort.