On a chilly night in February 1968, S.C. state troopers opened fire on a group of unarmed black college students at S.C. State University, killing three and wounding 27 others in the worst incidence of violence on a college campus in state history.
The incident culminated three days of racial strife over the integration of a local bowling alley. The shootings on campus came to be known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
The three students killed – Henry Smith, 20, Samuel Hammond, 19, and Delano Middleton, 17 – were struck down in a barrage of bullets fired by police from the edge of campus, where the students had gathered near a bonfire to protest the white-owned All Star Bowling Lane’s refusal to admit the black students to bowl.
During three days of the most intense protests, relations among the police, the white community and the college students became so volatile that school administrators urged students not to leave the downtown Orangeburg campus.
On the night of the shooting, S.C. Gov. Robert McNair had ordered 150 armed state troopers, State Law Enforcement Division agents, sheriff's deputies, city police, and National Guard personnel to keep watch on the campus, hunkered down at its entrance on U.S. 601.
The shooting was said to have been triggered by a policeman firing his gun into the air to warn students against advancing on campus property closer to the officers’ held positions on the street outside the campus. The lone officer’s shot in the air was said to cause remaining officers to open fire, maybe thinking the students had fired the shot. None of the students was armed, however.
The buckshot used by police struck many of student victims in the back or the soles of their feet, reports said.
Nine officers tried in the shooting were acquitted on all charges. One student, Cleveland Sellers, was convicted of inciting a riot police said led to the shootings and was sentenced to prison. Sellers was pardoned years later and in 2003, Gov. Mark Sanford apologized for the actions of the state troopers.
About this series: The inaugural edition of The State newspaper was published Feb. 18, 1891. In anticipation of the 125th anniversary, the Palmetto section and this section at thestate.com are recounting each day how The State covered newsmakers and events vital to South Carolina’s history.