FEBRUARY 8, 1968

Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond, Jr. and Henry Smith

Students Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Henry Ezekial Smith and Delano Herman Middleton were shot and killed by state troopers who fired on demonstrators at the South Carolina State College campus in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Fifty were also wounded in the confrontation with highway patrolmen at the rally supporting civil rights protesters. The students had been protesting at the All-Star Bowling Lane, which refused to serve the black students.

When police arrested protesters, chaos ensued, and police began beating protesters with billy clubs, sending eight students to the hospital. Angry at what had taken place, students set a bonfire in front of the campus. When authorities showed up to put out the fire, one officer was injured by an object thrown from the crowd.

State troopers began firing their guns at the unarmed protesters, killing two students, Hammond and Smith, as well as Middleton, a high school student who was simply sitting on the steps of the freshman dormitory, waiting for his mother. The governor tried to blame “outside agitators” for what happened, but the federal government brought excessive force charges against the nine troopers.

The jury acquitted the troopers, who claimed they acted in self-defense. In contrast, a jury did convict activist Cleveland Sellers of a riot charge in connection with the bowling alley protests, and he was forced to serve seven months in prison.

The violence became known as the Orangeburg Massacre, foreshadowing the shootings that followed at Kent State University and Jackson State University. The on-campus arena has since been renamed in honor of the slain students.

Jack Bass, the co-author of the Orangeburg Massacre, which details the slayings, has called for South Carolina to do something similar to what Florida did with regard to the Rosewood Massacre — award money to surviving children and college scholarships to grandchildren.

“Perhaps,” he wrote, “it is time now for South Carolina to clear its conscience.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.