Orangeburg Massacre Ceremony (copy)

Bakari Sellers (right), seated next to S.C. State President James E. Clark, delivered the keynote address at the 50th Commemorative Ceremony of the Orangeburg Massacre in 2018. File/Larry Hardy/Times and Democrat

It was one of the bloodiest episodes of the civil rights movement, and it changed South Carolina's reputation when it came to race relations. It was no longer known as a moderate state that had avoided the violent confrontations seen in Mississippi and Alabama.

On the night of Feb. 8, 1968, state troopers fired lethal buckshot into a crowd of unarmed students on the campus of South Carolina State College, killing three and injuring at least 28. The shooting came after three days of intense unrest in Orangeburg. Students were protesting a segregated bowling alley.

State and federal authorities were worried about the presence of a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activist, Cleveland Sellers Jr., who ended up the only person convicted and jailed after the shooting. The authorities said they wanted to avoid an urban riot provoked by Black Power ideas. In fact, Sellers was in town to talk to students about black identity politics, not street rebellions, and to pave the way for finishing his education.

Instead, he was shot, blamed for the violence and arrested. 

Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond and Delano Middleton lost their lives.

S.C. State University will mark the 51st anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre with three days of events this week on its campus.

4 p.m. Wednesday: Post and Courier reporter Adam Parker, whose biography "Outside Agitator: The Civil Rights Struggle of Cleveland Sellers Jr." was released late last year by Hub City Press, will discuss the freedom struggle of the 1960s. He will be accompanied by Sellers. Both will answer questions and sign books. The event takes place in the Fine Arts Building.

1 p.m. Thursday: The documentary "While I Breathe, I Hope" will be screened in the Fine Arts Building. The film recounts Bakari Sellers' 2014 campaign for lieutenant governor of South Carolina. Sellers is the son of Cleveland Sellers Jr. He was the state's youngest black legislator ever, winning a seat in the House of Representatives at age 22 and serving from 2006 to 2014.

Today, Sellers is a practicing attorney and CNN commentator. He will appear at the screening with director Emily Harrold to discuss the film.

"While I Breathe, I Hope" also will be broadcast by "AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange," the award-winning public television documentary series, at 8 p.m. Feb. 11 on the World channel. Viewers can stream it at worldchannel.org and PBS.org and using PBS apps.

4 p.m. Thursday: A student re-enactment protest recalling the original protest on Feb. 6, 1968, at the All-Star Bowling Lanes, will take current students and others from the campus to the bowling alley.

In 1968, the bowling alley owner continued to insist on a whites-only policy, prompting students at S.C. State College and the adjacent Claflin College to gather in protest. It was the first of three days of acute unrest that culminated on night of Feb. 8 with the shooting of unarmed students on campus by state troopers. 

11 a.m. Friday: Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, will deliver the keynote address at a commemoration ceremony held in the Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium at the front of the S.C. State campus.

Following the ceremony, a wreath laying and memorial flame lighting ceremony will be held in nearby Legacy Plaza, where a monument pays tribute to the students who were killed.