Last week, in a move that can be characterized only as stunning, former Gov. Robert Evander McNair took sole personal and public responsibility for the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre.

McNair made the admission in a new biography, South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights by Philip G. Grose (USC Press).

In the book, the former governor said, “The fact that I was governor at the time placed the mantle of responsibility squarely on my shoulders, and I have borne that responsibility with all the heaviness it entails for all those years.”

Now, there’s something The Eye never thought would happen, but then again, The Eye didn’t expect The Citadel to admit women within its lifetime, either.

Never say never.

In February 1968, a group of students from S.C. State College gathered outside the segregated All Star Bowling Lane (owned by the late Harry K. Floyd) to protest its refusal to serve them. On February 8, a mostly male group of protesters escalated their demonstration by setting grass fires and burning down a house. A highway patrolman was hit in the face with a bannister and in the ensuing melee other patrolmen were hit with bottles and other airborne projectiles. At some point the officers felt they had come under small-arms fire and then shot into the crowd with live ammunition.

When the dust settled, Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith were dead, and 27 protestors were wounded.

McNair blamed Black Power activists for the violence, but history has proven him wrong.

Nine highway patrolmen stood in the first-ever federal trial of officers using excessive force against a campus protest. All nine were acquitted.

Only one person received a conviction in connection with the riots.

Cleveland Sellers was then the representative of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was convicted of incitement to riot.

Sellers, who was pardoned in 1993, is now the director of the University of South Carolina’s African-American studies program.

Sellers told The State that while he thought the scholarship of South Carolina at the Brink was very well researched, he still harbored reservations about what had happened.

“I kept thinking in another day, another six months, another year, there would be some signs of contrition, some signs of apology, some signs of ‘let’s get this behind us’ by actually finding out and putting on the table what really transpired.”

At least Bob McNair, who as governor stood smack dab in the midst of the old and new orders of politicians in the Palmetto State, has had the cojones to speak publicly about a private burden borne from public service … and apologize for the consequences of his decision.

The gym at South Carolina State is named for the three fallen students.

The All Star Bowling Lane is now known as the All Star Triangle Lane and is still owned and operated by the descendants of Harry K. Floyd.

The next time you’re in O-burg, why don’cha go by there and toss a few frames where the original student protest outrages began — hell, Kent State didn’t happen until two years after the Orangeburg Massacre.

But then, most American citizens don’t know this because they don’t know the history of their own country and are far too lazy to want to find it out. — D.A. Smith

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