‘We can’t forget’: Remembering Orangeburg Massacre is call to action

Feb 10, 2018

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Survivors of the shootings on the night of Feb. 8, 1968, are asked to stand during the Orangeburg Massacre 5oth anniversary ceremony at S.C. State on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (Panther photo by Jelah Anderson)

“Bittersweet moment” and “painful reminder” were words used by Bakari Sellers on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, to describe the Orangeburg Massacre.

As keynote speaker, Sellers stood before a crowd of hundreds at the 50-year memorial of the Orangeburg Massacre. The ceremony was held at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center on the South Carolina State University campus.

Thursday marked 50 years since 28 students were wounded and the lives of Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith were taken by state troopers on the night of February 8, 1968. The troopers opened fire during a protest by students seeking desegregation of  All-Star Triangle bowling alley.

Of the 28 injured, nine were in attendance at the memorial.

Sellers, whose father Cleveland Sellers was the only person convicted in cases related to the Massacre, was overwhelmed with emotion as he talked about the tragedy that took place that night.

“It’s a painful reminder,” Sellers said. “Fifty years ago was 16 years before I was born, and it still hurts like nothing else that I know in my chest, and behind my eyes, and all over my body.”

Sellers recalled how the Massacre impacted his life.

“Even as a child, I saw the scars and heard the story, again and again, reminded of the struggle and my place in it, and my duty to continue for those who cannot.”

Sellers then raised a question about the Massacre.

“Now as a man, I look back on that memory of a bowling alley on Russell Street, and I have to ask: ‘Was it even worth it?’

“It is a tough question I know, even after all of the years, all of the tears shed, all of the bloodshed,” Sellers said.

Sellers said the reason for the memorial is to remember the pain of that night.

“They tell us to let go, they tell us to forget, they tell us to not tell that story,” Sellers said. “We come here to endure the pain year after year, not because we want to forget, but because we can’t forget.”

Sellers said the purpose of the memorial should change.

“No longer will we sit here and cry on stage, but let us transform this memorial into a call of action,” Sellers said. “This is a moral struggle that requires a moral revolution.”

Sellers was not the only speaker to call for change.

Dr. Wes Bellamy, vice mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, the scene earlier this year of clashes between white supremacists and those protesting their presence, challenged the audience to make a change.

 Bellamy, a 2009 graduate of S.C. State, said the focus of the fight must change. “We must fight for equity, not equality.”

Bellamy said equality only works when everyone is on the same playing field. He asked the audience to be more aware of things going on in their community. 

He told the audience it is easy to come to a ceremony and applaud others for their sacrifice.

“What’s even better than saying it is doing something about it,” he said.

Jelah Anderson and Alexis Bookman contributed to this report.

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Before the ceremony at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center. (Panther photo by Audrianna Larrymore)

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South Carolina State ROTC students return to their seats after posting the colors. (Panther photo by Alexis Pipkins)

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The combined choirs of Claflin, S.C. State and Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School performed at the ceremony. (Panther photo by Kiysha Tobin)

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