ORANGEBURG, SC (WIS) - It’s considered the most significant civil rights event to ever happen in the Palmetto State. 51 years ago, three South Carolina State College students were killed in the racially charged Orangeburg Massacre. At least 28 others were injured when South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on a group of unarmed protesters.
A commemorative ceremony is being held at South Carolina State University Friday morning to honor those victims, and the legacy of strength that this tragedy leaves behind.
On Feb. 8, 1968, students attending what used to be South Carolina State College helped to lead a protest against All-Star Bowling Lanes because of their “whites only” policy. That bowling alley is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The protesters were unarmed when highway patrolmen opened fire, killing 19-year-old Henry Smith, 18-year-old Samuel Hammond, and 17-year-old Delano Middleton.
Former South Carolina Representative and political commentator, Bakari Sellers, is also the son of a living survivor of the Orangeburg Massacre. His father, Dr. Cleveland Sellers, is a veteran civil rights activist who was injured that Feb. night back in 1968.
“Young people, back in 1968, took their future in their hands and they pushed for the change that they wanted to see in the world. Three of them gave their lives, another 28 were wounded, including my father, and I always tell people Feb. 8, 1968 was the most important day of my life. So, it’s a somber day. It’s a day of remembrance, but it’s also a day in which you get reignited to know that there still is a lot to change in the world around you,” Sellers said.
Sellers also says the tragedy continues to shape the way his father lives his life, “instructing and urging one to be a change agent. Trying to make sure that you’re pushing the culture forward, making sure that you’re being apart of something larger than yourself are all things that he embodied and lessons that have been passed down.”
This year’s theme for the ceremony at SC State is “Celebrating the Progress and Sustaining the Promise.”
That’s at 11 a.m. Friday in the Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium.