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Documentary Looks Back On SC's Orangeburg Massacre

The Harvey B. Gantt Center

Next Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of a tragic day in the Civil Rights Movement. On February 8, 1968, South Carolina Highway Patrol officers opened fire on a crowd of unarmed black students during a demonstration on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

The police gunfire killed two SC State students and a 17-year old high school students.  More than two dozen others were injured.  Nine officers were tried on charges of using excessive force against the demonstrators. All nine were acquitted. The story of the Orangeburg Massacre, as it came to be known, is told in a new documentary film by award-winning producer and local television journalist, Steve Crump.

Why examine this part of Civil Rights history?

It's a part of history that so many people don't know about. You have this whole scenario that plays out roughly two hours from Charlotte and in many circles it's just not talked about. It's just unheard of.

What made this event so horrific?

You talk about February 8th and that was the night to use the phrase that “all hell broke loose.” But go back two days before…when the students wanted to integrate the All Star Bowling Lanes. There was a crowd of students in the parking lot. A window gets broken. Everything's scattered. The police come in. There were a number of students that were beaten. There was an order, where there were upwards of 200 highway patrol in there. There happened to be, by some estimates, close to a thousand National Guard troops there. You look at downtown Orangeburg, you had military tanks there. You had folks there in their green military uniforms and rifles and bayonets on the top. Some of the people that we interviewed for the project basically said, “We were living under what could be determined, at least for appearance sake, martial law.  

What were the memories of those who were in the crowd?

Going back to the bowling alley, there was a student that we talked with Emma McCain. She talks about it very vividly, being held by not one, but two police officers there, while another one clubbed her across the head. There were those kinds of acts of brutality that were carried out in 1968 in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

In the months following the Orangeburg incident was there a unified idea among African Americans about how to respond?

There are several things that happened. The school shut down for two weeks, which perhaps may have been a wise thing because that time served as a cooling-off period. I talked to students who were shell-shocked. And 50 years later, the wounds are still fresh. As far as the role of responsibility by the state of South Carolina, there has been no restitution made to these families that lost loved ones or those that were injured. There was an apology that was just a statement issued by former governor Mark Sanford. And in our piece we interviewed Governor Jim Hodges who calls for another investigation. Even though it's been 50 years ago…there are still people that are grieving and that still feel violated from something that happened a half century ago.