This is How a Student Protest Ended in a Massacre

Police arrest a man during the Watts Riots./New York World-Telegram/LOC/Public Domain

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Orangeburg, South Carolina, was a town ravaged by racism. But after new legislation passed outlawing segregation, Black residents were hopeful that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream had finally manifested!

However, in 1968, a local bowling alley would dash that dream. Acting as if Jim Crow ran the place himself, the owner of All Star Bowling Lane refused to serve Black customers.

Black students attending South Carolina State University (SCSU) recognized the owner’s commitment to segregation. And, after witnessing the power of protest from previous Black movements, these students decided to take action to desegregate this local establishment.

The first demonstration, on February 5th, saw 40 SCSU students enter the bowling alley. They went peacefully when told to leave.

The next night, more student demonstrators entered. This time, police were ready, and by the night’s end, they were beating men and women with billy clubs, arresting those they could. Eight students were hospitalized.

To call the racial climate “tense” would be an understatement, but these students had to be uncompromising in the face of discrimination. Thus, 200 protesters came together on SCSU’s campus to let their voices be heard... until the fatal day of February 8.

Displeased with the growing protests, police and the state government - backed by the National Guard - were looking for an opportunity to strike back. An on-campus bonfire as part of the protest served as their opportunity.

“Provoked” by insults and a small piece of wood tossed at them, South Carolina Highway Patrol officers began to fire their weapons into the crowd. For about 15 SECONDS, police ruthlessly shot at the 200 Black bodies. After they finished, 27 people were injured. 3 were murdered.

Later, the mayor blamed the shooting and resultant deaths on Black Power “agitators.” But the truth is, when Black students exercised their civil rights, those in authority found a way to silence them.

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