On Feb 8, 1968, highway patrol officers opened fire on a group of South Carolina State University students who were demonstrating for their civil rights. Three students were killed and 27 others—including Bobby Eaddy—were wounded. Despite the injustices of the era, he went on to serve eight years in the U.S. Army. Listen to Mr. Eaddy's first-hand account of the Orangeburg Massacre given at the 47th commemoration ceremony.
Email: Eaddy [@] Outlook.com for more information.
Download the PDF: Orangeburg: A Retrospective on 1968
Orangeburg: A Retrospective on 1968
On February 8, 1968, during the escalating tensions of the civil rights movement, South Carolina Highway Patrolmen fired shots into a crowd of student demonstrators on the campus of the historically black South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith and Delano Middleton were killed, and 27 others were wounded, including Bobby Eaddy. Although the tragedy was the first event of its kind on any United States college campus, it remains largely unrecognized in American history.
The Orangeburg Massacre occurred two nights after efforts to integrate the All-Star Bowling Lanes—the city’s only bowling alley—erupted in violence, sending nine students and one city policeman to the hospital.
On the night of February 8, 1968, students lit a bonfire in front of campus and state troopers arrived with the fire department to douse the flames. As students retreated to campus, a banister was thrown and struck a trooper in the face.
Minutes later, officers positioned themselves on the edge of campus and began firing at the students. Most of the students injured were shot in the back as they retreated. The officers claimed to have fired their weapons after hearing shots, though witnesses dispute those claims and no evidence was found to suggest the students possessed guns.
The bullet that struck Bobby Eaddy entered the back of his upper torso and traveled through his body until it stopped near his heart. The bullet could not be removed, so it remains in his chest as a permanent reminder of the night that three young men lost their lives.
Nine officers were identified as having fired their weapons at the students. However, they were tried and acquitted in less than two hours. Civil rights activists were outraged by the verdict, but were more determined than ever to end the oppressive policies of the era.
Two years after the shootings, a student leader, Cleveland Sellers, Jr., was convicted of “inciting a riot” and served seven months of a one-year sentence before being released early for good behavior. He was the only person to serve jail time for the events related to the massacre.
Following a staff investigation in 2003, South Carolina issued a long-overdue pardon to Sellers, who served as the director of the African American Studies program at the University of South Carolina. His son, Bakari Sellers, served in the state legislature and is a CNN analyst.
1968 was filled with tumultuous events that all but erased the Orangeburg Massacre from history. That year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated and rioting broke out during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Though it was the first event of its kind on any college campus, the Orangeburg Massacre is not well recognized like the campus shootings that occurred at Kent State University in Ohio.
Media coverage of the events in Vietnam and North Korea overshadowed the Orangeburg Massacre, allowing the story to be suppressed and falsely portrayed as a justified response to a violent student demonstration.
Instead of covering the Orangeburg shootings, national media were focused on the Tet offensive, which began three days before the Orangeburg tragedy, and the capture of the U.S. Navy vessel The Pueblo weeks earlier.
While the tragedy was unthinkable, students at South Carolina State had not been absent from earlier civil rights struggles. Students at South Carolina State had a long history of peaceful activism, including protesting Orangeburg’s White Citizens Council, marching against segregation in 1960, and launching sit-in demonstrations just days after the first sit-ins were held in Greensboro, North Carolina. The students marching against segregation in Orangeburg had been dispersed with fire hoses and law enforcement officials arrested 400 activists.
Each year since the Orangeburg Massacre, the university has held a ceremony to honor those involved. Markers on the campus now commemorate the victims of the shootings and identify the location where the tragedy occurred.
In 2001, Governor Jim Hodges spoke on behalf of the state and expressed deep regret for the events of February 8, 1968, and in 2003 Governor Mark Sanford issued an apology. The Federal Bureau of Investigation cited double jeopardy protections in 2007 when declining to reopen the case along with other unresolved civil rights matters.
Photos from the Orangeburg tragedy are on display in the 1968 room of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
Email: Eaddy [@] Outlook.com for more information.
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