ORANGEBURG, SC – Fifty-four years ago, on this day in 1968, the Orangeburg Massacre events happened in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on the campus of South Carolina State University.
In the fall of 1967, some of the black leaders within the community tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of a bowling alley to allow African-Americans. Floyd was unwilling to desegregate which resulted in protests in early February 1968.
On February 6, 1968, a group of students (approximately 200) from South Carolina State University entered into the bowling alley and left peacefully after they were asked to leave by Floyd. The next night more students led by John Stroman returned and entered the bowling alley. This time, there were police waiting for them and several students were arrested including Stroman. After the arrests, more students began showing up angry, breaking a window of the bowling alley and chaos occurred. Police began beating student protesters with billy clubs. That night, eight students were sent to the hospital.
On the night of February 8, 1968, students started a bonfire in the front of South Carolina State University’s campus. As law enforcement attempted to put out the fire, Officer David Shealy was injured by a thrown object. Shortly after (around 10:30 p.m.) South Carolina Highway Patrol officers began firing into the crowd of around 150 protesters. Eight Patrol Officers fired carbines, short guns, and revolvers at the protesters, which lasted around 10 to 15 seconds in an attempt to calm the crowd. South Carolina State students Samuel E. Hammond Jr., Henry E. Smith and high school student Delano Middleton (who attended the local Wilkinson High School) were killed, along with twenty-eight people who were injured in the shooting.
In the aftermath of this event, the federal government brought charged against the State patrolmen in the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. All nine defendants were acquitted although thirty-six witnesses stated that they did not hear gunfire coming from the protesters on campus before the shooting and no students were found to be carrying guns.
In a state trail in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of a charged of riot related to the events on February 6 at the bowling alley. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
South Carolina State University’s gymnasium is named in the memorandum of Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith (S-H-M Memorial Center), the three men who were killed. A monument was erected on campus in their honor, and the site has been marked.
Each year since 1968, the University has held an observance to commemorate the lives of 18-year-old SC State students Henry Smith and Samuel Hammond Jr., 17-year-old high school student Delano Middleton. This often neglected and overlooked tragedy is not nearly as well known as the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970, although it had a profound effect on the Orangeburg community and surrounding area.
“Today, we pause to remember three young men, Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond, Jr., and Delano Middleton, who were killed on South Carolina State University campus by SC Highway Patrol on this day in 1968, 54 years ago. Henry, Samuel, and Delano gave a fight to desegregate the South.
The event occurred to convince a local bowling alley in Orangeburg to allow African Americans, and the outcome was rejected. Later, claiming the lives of three young men ended as what we know it as the Orangeburg Massacre.
We pay homage to these three teenagers, along with the twenty-eight people who were injured, recommitting us that we must continue to fight for social justice and get in good, necessary trouble. Their legacy lives on as we shall not live in silence about ending discrimination in all forms across this nation.— Demetrius Johnson Jr.
Founder, President & CEO