Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre

1 Feb

Many of the producers who have worked for Blackside, the production company founded by Henry Hampton, continue to enjoy distinguished filmmaking careers. Starting with this post, we will provide updates on the work of Blackside alumni.

A veteran of many civil rights campaigns with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other social justice organizations, Judy Richardson first began working for Blackside in 1978. She served as series research consultant on the first Eyes on the Prize series, and as series associate producer for Eyes on the Prize II. She was also the co-producer of Malcolm X: Make it Plain. Ms. Richardson is now a senior producer at Northern Light Productions in Boston, Massachusetts, and continues to lecture and conduct teacher-training workshops on the history and values of the Movement.

One of Northern Light’s upcoming films is Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, to be broadcast on PBS in February 2010. On February 6, 1968, African American students from South Carolina State College and from Claflin University—located side by side in Orangeburg—tried to integrate the All-Star Bowling Lanes. Located five minutes from both campuses, All-Star was the only bowling alley in that city. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act four years earlier, the owner retained his whites-only policy and refused to admit the students.

Local police supported the owner and tried to remove the students. An altercation ensued. When it was over, nine students and one policeman received medical treatment at a nearby hospital. According to journalist Jack Bass, who investigated the events in Orangeburg, “[South Carolina State] College faculty and administrators at the scene witnessed at least two instances in which a female student was held by one officer and clubbed by another.”

After that incident, the governor of South Carolina, Robert E. McNair, sent National Guard units to Orangeburg to set up road blocks around S.C. State. Many at the college were angry about the police actions on the 6th, and saw the Guard deployment as an aggressive act. On the night of February 8, some students lit a bonfire on the street in front of the campus. A fire truck arrived to put out the fire, accompanied by state troopers. The troopers marched toward the crowd and the students retreated, but a policeman was struck in the face by a piece of a banister that had been randomly tossed by a demonstrator.

Later, a number of students streamed back toward the remains of the bonfire. Shortly thereafter, officers fired repeatedly into the crowd with a variety of weapons, including shotguns loaded with high-caliber buck shot. According to medical records, 30 students were struck by the gunfire, nearly all of them in the back or side as they fled on the campus. Some were shot in the feet or legs while lying on the ground. Three of the wounded—Samuel Hammond Jr., Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith—died as a result of their injuries. A number of the victims reported hearing laughter from the police after the shooting ended. A subsequent FBI investigation found no evidence that guns had been fired by anyone other than the police.

On February 26, 1968, following a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the owner of All-Star Lanes allowed black customers into his establishment. The only person to be convicted as a result of the Massacre was a young black man from the local area, Cleveland Sellers. A veteran civil rights organizer with SNCC, Sellers had recently left the voter registration campaigns in Mississippi and Alabama to return to school at S.C. State. A South Carolina jury convicted Sellers of rioting—after the charges against him were changed from the night of the Massacre to the night of the blowing alley demonstration two days earlier—and he served seven months in the state penitentiary. Sellers received a full pardon in 1993.

The Massacre is commemorated every year at S. C. State University, and calls for a new investigation are increasing. Scarred Justice uses historical footage and original interviews from a wide range of participants to report this forgotten chapter in U.S. history. It was the only film screened at the NAACP’s centennial convention in July 2009. The following day, President Barack Obama addressed the convention, as did keynote speaker Julian Bond, a longtime civil rights activist and the narrator of Eyes on the Prize.

For more information about Scarred Justice and other films by Northern Light Productions, please visit the company’s home page:

Northern Lights Productions

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