Book reviews: 'Blood & Bone' looks at town's response to tragedy
BLOOD & BONE. By Jack Shuler. University of South Carolina Press. 248 pages. $29.95.
In "Blood & Bone," Jack Shuler does a masterful job in writing about "Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town," the words of his subtitle.
The town is Orangeburg, where Shuler, now in his early 30s and a member of the English faculty at Denison University in Ohio, grew up. His subject is the response of the Orangeburg of today to the tragedy known as the Orangeburg Massacre that occurred 44 years ago.
It occurred at 10:33 p.m. on Feb. 8, 1968. During an eight- to 10-second barrage of police gunfire, three black students were killed and 28 others wounded on the campus of South Carolina State College (now University). All but two or three were hit in the side or back or even the soles of their feet while turning or diving for cover.
The protests began two days earlier when black students were not allowed to bowl at the town's bowling alley.
In federal court, nine highway patrolmen charged with "imposing summary punishment without due process of law" were acquitted.
Shuler chanced upon the book "The Orangeburg Massacre" a decade or so ago while doing research as a young graduate student at the New York Public Library. It began his quest to explore his hometown's response. His interviews with a variety of people on all sides of the issue add depth to this well-written account.
Readers can learn from his balanced account of the depth of denial that continues today in much of white Orangeburg, but also significant activity among both black and especially a core group of young white clergy and others pushing for truth and reconciliation.
They are not alone. The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg's daily newspaper, has provided a source of institutional support in that direction. The city's white businessman mayor has developed a depth of understanding reflected in his being one of the few whites who regularly attend the annual memorial service on campus.
The book ends with a poignant story, one in which Shuler brings together for lunch at a local eatery a niece of the bowling alley owner, a woman he had never met before, and Zachery Middleton. Middleton was student body president at South Carolina State his senior year and a first-team tackle on the football team, and played the role of his great-uncle, Delano, one of the three whose lives were taken in the Orangeburg Massacre, two years ago in a student-written play favorably reviewed by The New York Times.
Afterward, while Shuler is engaged in conversation with a fourth party at the luncheon, he looks up and notices Middleton and the young woman standing close together about 20 feet away. They're talking with "a lot of nodding and gesturing." The book concludes, "They were clearly listening to and responding to one another. They looked comfortable, content, in the glow of the parking-lot light."
Only Shuler could have written this important book. May it become a big best-seller in Orangeburg -- and beyond.