The Legacy of the Orangeburg Massacre (Enhanced Edition)by Frank Beacham
An act of racism in a small college town leads to peaceful protest by frustrated black students. The governor, elected on a platform of racial moderation, responds with a vast show of armed force. Each side misreads the other, escalating the conflict. Then, in a peak of emotional frenzy, nine white highway patrolmen open fire on the students. In less than ten… See more details below
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An act of racism in a small college town leads to peaceful protest by frustrated black students. The governor, elected on a platform of racial moderation, responds with a vast show of armed force. Each side misreads the other, escalating the conflict. Then, in a peak of emotional frenzy, nine white highway patrolmen open fire on the students. In less than ten seconds, the campus turns into a bloodbath.
Over four days in early February, 1968, this scenario played out in Orangeburg. On the final day, three black students were killed and 27 others wounded when the lawmen sprayed deadly buckshot onto the campus of South Carolina State College. Most of the students, in retreat at the time, were shot from the rear—some in the back, others in the soles of their feet. None carried weapons.
The killings occurred in a southern state heralded for its record of nonviolence during the civil rights era. In attempt to preserve its carefully-cultivated image of racial harmony, a web of official deceptions was created to distort the facts and conceal the truth about what happened in Orangeburg. The state's young governor, Robert E. McNair, claimed the deaths were the result of a two-way gun battle between students and lawmen. The highway patrolmen insisted their shooting was done in self-defense—to protect themselves from an attacking mob of students.
At first, the state’s cover-up worked. Later, it unraveled. Now, after nearly 35 years, the story of Orangeburg continues to simmer unresolved in a twilight zone of blame and denial. Author Frank Beacham, a young reporter at WIS-TV in Columbia at the time of the shooting in 1968, re-examines “a story whose significance I totally missed at the time.”
Beacham asks why, after 45 years, does an aggressive effort continue in South Carolina to hide and distort the role of former Gov. McNair and his white state police in the 1968 killing of three black college students in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He found the answers disturbing.
“The Orangeburg Massacre is a complex Southern epic that contains the essential elements of the best of Shakespeare’s plays,” Beacham noted. “The 35-year aftermath of the killing is perhaps one of the most revealing and important historical stories of modern South Carolina and very deep dive into the basics of Southern culture.”
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