Jack Bass presents an interesting proposition in the Feb. 8 Post and Courier, suggesting that South Carolina taxpayers pay reparations to the "victims" of the 1968 Orangeburg incident. Before going down this road, a few questions should be addressed.
Bass tells the reader he was in Orangeburg a day and a half before the incident, yet fails to mention the events that brought him there.
Did he see a story in the escalating violence and vandalism perpetrated by student protesters? Were all of the protesters students? How and why did a protest become unlawful and violent?
Who were the "victims" of the Orangeburg incident: the protesters or the S.C. Highway Patrolmen? Did Bass think the Highway Patrol would arrive unarmed? Would Bass stand unarmed and hold the line as the unruly mob advanced, hurling fire bombs and projectiles? When Patrolman David Sheally was hit in the face with a flying banister, his fellow officers only saw blood gushing from his wound.
In the midst of the chaos they did not and could not know if he had been hit with a bullet, banister or brick. As the unruly mob continued its advance, was the Riot Squad wrong to fear for their lives? Wouldn't you?
The S.C. Highway Patrol was not ordered to Orangeburg to defend the alleged segregationist practice of the local bowling alley.
Their mission was to protect firefighters and local citizens, black and white, from injury; and to defend public and private property from vandalism and destruction.
Although the color of the Highway Patrol is significant to Bass, the color of the protesters was not relevant to the patrolmen. They were trained to control unruly crowds regardless of race. They were not asked to stand as passive targets and die without defending themselves.
Had the governor declined to send the Highway Patrol to Orangeburg, would the town have burned at the hands of the mob? How many firemen would have been injured or died fighting blazes? How many innocent citizens, black and white, were saved because the state sent law enforcement to protect them?
Is Orangeburg on the map today because of the brave actions of the S.C. Highway Patrol? Because the state intervened, these questions cannot be answered.
What we do know is the mob initiated the violence and destruction. Tell me when constructive change is the direct result of an angry violent mob. There was nothing civil about this disobedience.
Our country, governed by the rule of law, provides avenues and mechanisms to bring about change. Change takes time. Young, impatient and frustrated, the protesters disregarded authority, made poor decisions that night and in the days preceding the incident and now, as taxpayers, we are asked to reward them for their actions. I think not.
When you speak of post-traumatic stress disorder, talk to members of the S.C. Highway Patrol who served on the Riot Squad that night. Their voices are never heard, except in a court of law.
Jack Bass attempts to equate the Orangeburg Incident with the Rosewood Massacre in Florida. The contrast between the two cases is indeed striking and profound.
In the latter, the state of Florida failed to protect the citizens of Rosewood from vigilantes. Death and destruction resulted.
In contrast, the governor of South Carolina sent its Highway Patrol to protect all the citizenry of Orangeburg, black and white.
Nine patrolmen were subjected to state and federal trials. Each was found not guilty.
Cleveland Sellars, an instigator and agitator of the protest, was found guilty of inciting a riot and later pardoned.
A pardon is not a proclamation of innocence. He claims he is proud of his guilty verdict.
It is indeed tragic that lives were lost that fateful night.
Without the presence of state law enforcement, the tragedy might have been multiplied.
L.E. Kornahrens Jr.
S.C. Highway Patrol (1965-1972)
and Riot Squad (1968-1972)