{ SC's February Calendar + Our Featured SC Event }

Hilton Head, February 1-25  |  This year's February Calendar of SC Events is brought to you by the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration, which showcases the rich history and cultural heritage of the Gullah people on Hilton Head. The event has been recognized as one of the "Top 20 Events in the Southeast" and provides visitors with an opportunity to enjoy traditional Lowcountry food, storytelling, African dance, gospel music, and Gullah spirituals. The event lasts throughout the month and features a variety of tours, concerts, expos, and parties.

{ Honoring the 49th Anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre }

February 8th will mark the 49th anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre, a little-known tragedy in South Carolina's history that both preceded and mirrored the slaughter at Kent State. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it "the largest armed assault undertaken under color of law in recent Southern history," and yet for nearly half a century, the State of South Carolina has largely ignored it, refusing to this day to lead an investigation into the events that led to the murders of three young students.

All Star Bowling in Orangeburg served as the starting point for an historic, violent, and tragic event known as the Orangeburg Massacre. The only bowling alley in a city that contains two historically black schools – Claflin University and South Carolina State University – All Star prohibited African-Americans from entering its premises, even four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 desegregated all public places.

( John Diskes of Summerville, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

Owner Harry K. Floyd refused to integrate his bowling alley, claiming it was exempt from federal law. On the evening of Monday, February 5, 1968, several black students marched to All Star as part of an organized protest led by South Carolina State senior John Stroman; as expected, they were refused service. Floyd called the police, who arrived and forced Floyd to close the bowling alley for the rest of the night. The following evening, between 30 and 40 students, again led by Stroman, returned to the bowling alley. Police arrived along with State Law Enforcement Division head Pete Strom, who had been dispatched by Governor Robert McNair to quell the demonstration. Stroman asked the the female students to leave in order to protect them from arrest, but 15 young men remained.

( Andy Hunter of North Augusta, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

In the meantime, more students arrived. As the protesters were loaded into waiting patrol cars, witnesses became increasingly unruly, especially after a firetruck entered the parking lot. Firehoses had been unleashed on Orangeburg students during a Civil Rights march a few years before, and memories remained raw. Several of those gathered were beaten with bully sticks, including at least two women, Emma McCain and Louise Cawley. Over the next two days, agitation escalated among both students and the troops deployed by McNair and Strom. In all, more than 550 national, state, and local law enforcement agents gathered in Orangeburg with tanks, rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

( Andy Hunter of North Augusta, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

Just a year before, Governor McNair – who received 99% of the black vote in his gubernatorial campaign – claimed, "I intend to use all of the authority and influence at my command to see that the good name of our state is not tarnished." Governor McNair was referring to the unrest experienced by other states during desegregation and made it his mission to integrate South Carolina as seamlessly as possible. However, there were holdouts – such as Floyd – who made the transition difficult. As then-Charleston mayor J. Palmer Gaillard said, "Our biggest problems were not with the blacks, but with whites."

( SCIWAY, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

By the evening of Thursday, February 8, both local black campuses had been placed on lockdown. Nearly 70 armed law enforcement officers lined the main entrance to South Carolina State, where students had gathered around a bonfire to keep warm. The students held hands, sang protest songs, and chanted. At 10:30 PM, firemen moved in to douse the flames. Frustrated, the students turned and began to retreat. There were no street lights, and it was almost completely dark. Minutes later, a state trooper was struck in the face by an object. Tensions flared, and some officers later stated that they thought their colleague had been shot. Another officer fired a shot into the air, allegedly as a warning to the protesters, which triggered nine other officers to fire their weapons into the crowd. As a result, three students were fatally shot, while 28 others were hit while fleeing the scene. All of the youngsters were unarmed, and all but a few were shot in their backs or on the soles of their feet. The 28th wounded victim was not recognized until 2008.

The following morning the headline on the front page of the local paper, The Times and Democrat, read, "All Hell Breaks Loose – Three Killed and Many Injured in College Nightmare." In the wake of the tragedy, there was a federal investigation and two trials, one in which all nine of the white men who shot into the crowd were acquitted and another in which Cleveland Sellers, a native of Bamberg County, was convicted of inciting a riot and sentenced to one year in prison. (Released early for good behavior, Sellers served seven months, during which time his first child was born. The conviction came two-and-a-half years after the event.) All Star Bowling was forced by a federal judge to desegregate.

( Delano Middleton, Henry Smith, and Samuel Hammond, c. 1968 )

Despite the federal investigation, to date there has been no state investigation, and Governor McNair was widely criticized following the shootings. In a press conference held the morning after the tragedy, Governor McNair downplayed the event as an "unfortunate incident," placed blame on "black power advocates," and dispensed incorrect information such as claiming that the shootings happened off campus. While it is now understood that McNair was misinformed on the details before he spoke publicly of the event, many prior supporters of the governor – both black and white – expressed disappointment in his statements. As a result, McNair, at one time considered a possible candidate for the Vice Presidency, never ran for public office again. However, before he left office, Governor McNair acknowledged that the Orangeburg Massacre was a "scar on our state's conscience." He also claimed responsibility for the tragedy as governor in his 2006 biography.

( John Diskes of Summerville, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

Cleveland Sellers, who had formerly been a program director of the national Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was a participant in the events that winter, though not a leader. Used as a scapegoat because of his fame, he spent his time in prison writing his autobiography, River of No Return. He later received a master's degree from Harvard University and a Doctorate of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The author of several books, Dr. Sellers was officially pardoned in 1993. After teaching African-American studies at the University of South Carolina, he served as the president of Voorhees College (Update: became Voorhees University in April 2022) in his hometown of Denmark from 2008 until his retirement in the spring of 2015.

( John Diskes of Summerville, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

A memorial dedicated to the young men who lost their lives was erected on the campus of South Carolina State in 1969 (pictured in the two above photos). Harry K. Floyd died in 2002, leaving All Star Bowling to his son. The bowling alley closed in 2007.

If you are interested in the above story, please read our detailed account of the Orangeburg Massacre here.

Previous Issues of SCIWAY News

© 2023 SCIWAY.net, LLC. SCIWAY News is written by SCIWAY – with a lot of help from people throughout South Carolina. ISSN: 1537-3903.

Our mailing address is PO Box 13318, James Island, South Carolina 29422.

News, new website addresses, and comments and questions about this newsletter should be sent to news@sciway.net.

SCIWAY, pronounced "sky-way," is an acronym for South Carolina's Information Highway.