Today in History:
The Orangeburg Massacre (1968)
The Orangeburg massacre was an incident on February 8, 1968, in which nine South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, fired into an armed and violent mob protesting local segregation at a bowling alley. Three men were killed and twenty-eight more injured, hitting most of them in their backs. After the shooting stopped, two others were injured by police in the aftermath and one, a pregnant woman, later had a miscarriage due to the beating. The incident pre-dated the Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings.
In the days leading up to February 8, 1968, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg) to protest the segregation of the All Star Bowling Lane (now called All-Star Triangle Bowl), on US 301 (now SC 33). The bowling alley was owned by the late Harry K. Floyd.
That night, students threw firebombs, bricks and bottles and started a bonfire. As police attempted to put out the fire, an officer was injured by a thrown piece of banister. The police stated that they believed they were under attack by small arms fire. A newspaper report said “about 200 Negroes gathered and began sniping with what sounded like ‘at least one automatic, a shotgun and other small caliber weapons’ and throwing bricks and bottles at the patrolmen.” Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but did hurl various objects and insults at the police. Evidence that police were being fired at the time of the incident was inconclusive. While no evidence has been presented that protesters were armed or had fired on officers, a 1968 newspaper article reported that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.
Officers fired into the crowd, killing three young men: Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, both SCSU students, and Delano Middleton, a local student at Wilkinson High School. Twenty-eight others were wounded during the shooting or after in police abuse.
At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was "...one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina". McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power agitators, but subsequent investigations showed this allegation to be without basis and untrue.
At the trial, the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest, all nine defendants were acquitted. The activist Cleveland Sellers was the only person convicted and imprisoned (7 months) as a result of the incident. He represented the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was convicted of having incited the riot that preceded the shootings. In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC. Twenty-five years later, Sellers was officially pardoned.
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