The year 1968 was an inarguably turbulent era in American history. As the Vietnam War raged on overseas, our home turf was, too, stained by violence and unrest. While U.S. citizens looked toward new leadership in an election year, their icons of hope were slain. The national news, then, didn’t spend much time reporting the tragedy in Orangeburg. The crisis climate of the time overshadowed an event that was already poorly covered on-the-spot, due to the small town’s distance from news crews in the state capital, Columbia, and the timing of the massacre, which turned deadly after 9 p.m. on that Thursday night.
February 9th, 1968
Orangeburg Massacre shocks locally, has little national impact. At a press conference the next day in Columbia, South Carolina, Governor Robert E. McNair called it “one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina” and referred to it as “this unfortunate incident.” Contrary to evidence, he also said the shooting occurred off campus. He placed blame on “black power advocates.”
Troopers acquitted in Orangeburg case
In a federal court more than a year later, a jury took less than two hours to acquit nine troopers charged with imposing summary punishment without due process of law.
On July 20, the state’s Probation, Pardon, and Parole Board voted unanimously to pardon Sellers after a staff investigation recommended it. On the Sunday after Sellers’ pardon, South Carolina’s largest daily newspaper, "The State " in Columbia, SC said in its lead editorial that the pardon “was long, long overdue,” but represented “a significant step toward reconciliation and the healing process.” Link to The State's archive of stories relating to the Orangeburg Massacre.
February 8, 2000
Governor Hodges speaks at memorial, expresses regret at the 33rd commemoration of the shooting, Governor Jim Hodges said, “We deeply regret what happened here on the night of February 8, 1968.” Several survivors and their families attended, as well as state and some national media. Former Governor McNair was extended a formal invitation, but declined.
Incident gets renewed exposure after April 07 Democratic debate at S.C. State University
November 17, 2007
Former Gov. McNair dies at age 83
November 29, 2007
February 8, 2008
Sources include The Orangeburg Massacre (courtesy of Mercer University Press 2002) and Nieman Reports (courtesy of Jack Bass), in addition to news sources linked throughout timeline.
Photos appear courtesy of Bill Barley, Mercer University Press and Cleveland Sellers.