Two years before the infamous Kent State shooting, a Civil Rights demonstration on the campus of South Carolina State College, a historically black college in Orangeburg, led to the deaths of Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith, all age 18. Twenty-eight demonstrators were injured. The nine state highway patrolmen who fired into the crowd were exonerated of charges, and the only conviction was that of activist Cleveland Sellers. The incident received scant national attention. How did it come about?
By the winter of 1968, students at the two colleges set their sights on one particular target: All-Star Bowling Lanes, owned by white proprietor Harry Floyd. Despite the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, Floyd continued to refuse African-Americans service. On February 5, a group of students went to the bowling alley and defiantly sat at the lunch counter until the police were called and the business closed early.
The next day, the students returned and again entered the bowling alley, whereupon 15 of them were arrested. Hearing word of the arrests, hundreds of students poured into a parking lot nearby. Orangeburg police officers and state troopers confronted the growing crowd. Tensions began to diffuse once the arrested students were told they’d be freed, but at just that moment a fire truck arrived, causing new pandemonium. As civil rights activist and university educator Cleveland Sellers wrote in his autobiography, the fire truck suggested to the crowd that the authorities were ramping up their efforts because the powerful hoses had been turned on them during a demonstration in 1963, causing injuries and illness.
Pushed against the front doors of the bowling alley in their panic, the students knocked in a glass pane and were immediately set upon by the police officers, who brutally beat several young women. As the students fled for their respective campuses, several broke shop windows and defaced cars along the way.
The demonstration moved to the campus, and as tensions escalated, the governor called in the National Guard. The shootings occurred on February 8. Read what happened that night and afterward at Smithsonian.