[image-1] On February 8, 1968, a group of Orangeburg students gathered to protest a business owner who refused to integrate his bowling alley. State troopers and the National Guard were called to monitor the tense demonstration. By the end of the night, three South Carolina State University students were shot dead and dozens more were injured.
The event was originally misreported by the Associated Press as an “exchange” of gunfire, but that account was eventually debunked. Some troopers later told the FBI that they fired ‘riot guns,’ short-barreled shotguns loaded with buckshot, one officer fired a revolver six times, and yet another fired a shotgun into the crowd. In all, some 27 people were wounded in the barrage, though more may have chosen not to seek medical attention.
The nine officers involved in the shooting were each acquitted in federal court, but civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers was eventually convicted of inciting a riot and served seven months in prison. Sellers would be pardoned by the state in 1993, 25 year later.
The ‘Orangeburg Massacre,’ as it became known, slid from national consciousness as 1968 progressed. Just a few weeks later in early April, Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated. In June, Bobby Kennedy would be killed. American involvement in Vietnam continued to grow over the course of the year, becoming a major issue in the November presidential election. Though the loss of life and military involvement in the Kent State University shootings in 1970 were similar, that protest of the Vietnam War is more often cited than the small-town civil rights protest in South Carolina.
In 2009, the documentary ‘Scarred Justice’ included numerous interviews with those involved: