Monday, February 10, 2014
The faint glow of the sun’s rays was finally able to peek through a cold morning rain as individuals filed into the Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium on the campus of South Carolina State University for the institution’s commemoration of the 46th anniversary of the “Orangeburg Massacre” on Saturday afternoon.
On the night of Feb. 8, 1968, three students were killed and 28 others were injured when S.C. Highway Patrol troopers opened fire on a crowd of protesters following three nights of escalating racial tension over efforts to desegregate the All-Star Triangle Bowl.
South Carolina State College sophomore Henry Smith, S.C. State freshman Samuel Hammond Jr. and Wilkinson High School student Delano H. Middleton died in the incident.
John Stroman, a student leader and activist at the time, on Saturday described his involvement leading up to what is believed to be one of the nation’s first civil rights tragedies on a university campus, two years before the more well-known shootings at Jackson State and Kent State universities.
Stroman gave a detailed description of what he and others went through in the days leading up to the shootings. He described having been led to jail, sprayed in the face with mace and beaten by billy clubs in an attempt to desegregate the bowling alley, but the fight for justice and equality was one that he took seriously and embarked on with courage.
“Knowing the truth will set you free,” he said, noting that lingering bitterness and anger will not, however, serve to best remember those who lost their lives or were injured.
“The best way to remember is to make every echo a call for freedom and justice. A dream deferred is not a dream denied,” Stroman said, stressing that everyone has a destiny to achieve whatever he or she desires to be and to, hopefully, create a united world where everyone is considered equal.
Jourdan Kinsey, president of the Colleton County NAACP youth council, said it was important to bring approximately 19 children to the event so they could experience a part of history through the commemoration ceremony.
“It’s just really important for them to know about what happened. There are different stories, but they don’t know exactly what happened. It’s just really important for them to know,” Kinsey said. “They need to know exactly what our history is, how important it is and be proud to be an African-American.”
Dr. William Hine, a retired S.C. State history professor, said the ceremony was not held to foster “anger, animosity and bitterness,” but to remember and pay tribute to Smith, Hammond and Middleton, along with honoring those survivors who also fought the fight for justice.
Those individuals included Dr. Emma McCain, the Rev. Frankie Thomas and Thomas “Jackie” Kennerly. Fred Moore, who had led earlier student protests in the 1950s and was expelled just before he was scheduled to graduate, was among the others in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony.
“There are still people among us who have made history,” Hine said.
Sonja Bennett-Bellamy, vice president of the university’s division of external affairs and communication, said she was only age 5 at the time on Feb. 8, 1968 but has grown to embrace the history of the tragic night.
“I realize the value of that history and embraced this history as my own. South Carolina State University embraces this history as our own,” Bennett-Bellamy said.
S.C. State Student Government Association President Akeem Brown said the university has adopted a “Game Changers” theme to better reflect its own recognition of the Orangeburg Massacre and its part in history.
“We use that theme to remind our students here at South Carolina State every day as we put a mural in front of our bowling alley in the student center. There was never anything in front of the bowling alley to replicate why we have a bowling alley here on campus,” Brown said. “Now there’s a mural placed right in front that has Smith, Hammond and Middleton on it, but, more importantly, a vivid description of what that day looked like.”
Brown said the student body’s duty is to continue to cultivate the campus environment and enhance academic and social growth.
“Smith, Hammond and Middleton and many others kept that dream alive for us, and so we have taken up the challenge. And when we light the candle (of remembrance) today, we take the challenge to move forward by remembering and embracing our legacy,” Brown said.
Hine said part of that history included the long-overdue makeover last year of the monument remembering Smith, Hammond and Middleton. It was following the commemoration of the 45th anniversary that Middleton’s friend and classmate Sam Haynes pointed out that Middleton’s middle initial was incorrectly engraved in the monument as “B.”
Clay Middleton, Delano’s brother, said while the mistake went on for nearly 50 years, he is happy that the efforts of those including his nephew Alonzo Middleton and former mayor Paul Miller led to its correction.
“It’s something that the family had thought about, but Alonzo pursued it. He went and talked to the mayor, but it made a difference for us as a family. I think the ‘B’ came in because my brother’s name was Duerward Bernard, and I think that’s how they got it mixed up,” Middleton said. “But I was glad that they got it changed. That’s who he was.”
The co-author of the book, “The Orangeburg Massacre,” Orangeburg County native Jack Bass was in attendance at Saturday’s service. Read an editorial column by Bass at TheTandD.com, where you will also find a T&D editorial about the challenges faced by South Carolina State University in 1968 and today.