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Thu, 02.08.1968

The Orangeburg Massacre Occurs

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*On this date in 1968, The Orangeburg Massacre occurred.  This was the shooting of protesters by South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on the campus of South Carolina State University. 

The approximately 200 protesters had previously demonstrated against Jim Crow segregation at a local bowling alley. Three protestors, African American males, were killed, and twenty-seven other protesters were injured.  The episode pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, which killed student protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam War.  

At a press conference the following day, (then) Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was " of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina". McNair blamed the deaths on Black Power outside agitators and said the incident occurred off-campus, contrary to the evidence.  The federal government brought charges against the state patrolmen in the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. The state patrol officers' defense was that they felt they were in danger, and protesters had shot at the officers first.

All nine defendants were acquitted, although 36 witnesses stated they did not hear gunfire from the protesters on the campus before the shooting, and no students were found to be carrying guns.  In a state trial in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of a charge of riot related to the events on February 6 at the bowling alley. He served seven months in state prison, getting time off for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In 1973, he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC. 25 years later, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina.  The Smith–Hammond–Middleton Memorial Center, South Carolina State's on-campus arena, was renamed in honor of the three victims, opening the same year as the massacre.

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