Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., 18, Henry Ezekial Smith, 19
Most Americans know about the murder of students by National Guard troops at Kent State in Ohio on May 4, 1970, which was later immortalized in song. A smaller group are probably aware of the city and state police murders, at Jackson State in Mississippi, on May 15, 1970. Students from the campus were protesting racism. Two young black people died, 15 students were wounded, and over 460 rounds were fired into a dormitory.Two years before these tragedies occurred, three young black people who were protesting—not a war in Vietnam, but a war against black people called “segregation”—were killed by police. Twenty-seven more were shot (many in the back) or injured by being beaten with billy clubs. These events took place on February 8, 1968, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and have come come to be known by those who do remember as “the Orangeburg Massacre.”
The survivors have not forgotten. They come together each year, not only to remember, but to educate. This year’s memorial at South Carolina State started Friday, with a screening of “Scarred Justice: the Orangeburg Massacre 1968,” and the main program is scheduled to be held today.
Follow below the fold for more.
SC State alumnus Bobby Eaddy, who was one of the injured students, will serve as the speaker for Sunday’s program. The heart of Eaddy’s speech will focus on the event’s theme, From Protest to Action: Making a Difference. Eaddy, who, in 1968, was a freshman, will share his memories of that evening and tell how his efforts to fight for equality motivated him to help improve the lives of others throughout his life.The annual program will feature a special addition. Inspired by a public appeal for reconciliation and healing, signed by 250 Orangeburg residents during the 30th anniversary, the university will recognize one individual and an organization that have championed social justice.
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 thirty-six witnesses stated that they did not hear gunfire coming 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, for events on Tuesday at the bowling alley (the protest was on Thursday night). 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. Twenty-five years later, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina.
This was just like what happened later at Jackson State, where:
Members of a grand jury and a jury at a civil trial refused to indict any of the officers involved in the shootings. In 1974, a US Court of Appeals ruled that the officers had overreacted but that they could not be held liable for the two deaths that resulted. In 1982, all but two US Supreme Court Justices refused to hear the case.
Does any of this sound familiar? Black lives didn’t matter then, and the “justice” system still doesn’t work for us today.From news coverage of the conference:
“When I heard the first shot go off, I looked to see if they were really shooting,” Sellers said. “The area in front of the police was all lit up. There was smoke still billowing out from the bonfire.” He hit the ground. “I could feel when I got hit,” Sellers said. “It was a burning sensation.” Many people were shot in the back or the bottom of the feet as they scrambled away from the police gunfire.This was the segregation era. No ambulances came. With a gunshot wound under his left arm, Sellers dragged injured students to the infirmary. “They were hurt real bad and that’s the only way they could have gotten back over there,” he says. ROTC student Henry Smith had five gunshots. He died at the hospital. Freshman football player Sam Hammond died on the floor of the college infirmary. High school student Delano Middleton, shot in the chest, was a regular on the campus because his mother was a cleaner there and because he liked the grilled cheese sandwiches at the cafeteria, says Scarred Justice filmmaker Judy Richardson.
Middleton’s mother appeared at his side at the hospital and he took her hand, Richardson recounts from interviews she did for the documentary. He told his mother, ” ‘You’ve been a good mama but I’m going to leave you now.’ She starts saying, ‘The Lord is my shepherd…’ He repeats it and says, ‘Thank you mama, I feel so much better now.’ ”
Then he died.
Despite news accounts of heavy gunfire, investigations later revealed that the students were not armed.
Dr. Cleveland Sellers, president of Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C., delivered an address titled “A Voice from the Movement,” Monday, Feb. 17, in Room 116 of the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors College Building.
Sellers says,”We were idealists. We believed in the idea of justice, and equality and freedom. Those things had value to us. And so we made that commitment to lock up and join up with this movement.”Other survivors tell their stories:
In 2001, author and journalist Jack Bass took the opportunity of the 33rd anniversary of this “Orangeburg Massacre” to capture the testimonies of a few men who were on the scene that fatal night. In this segment of Bass’ oral history project, survivors tell their stories.
Though much of even recent American history relating to the life and death battle for justice for black Americans and the struggle for civil rights for us all is still buried, each of us must take responsibility to pass it on.It is a living history, not just part of Black History Month, and the struggle continues—year-round.