Sunday, November 18, 2007

Orangeburg Massacre governor dies

Former South Carolina Governor Robert E. McNair, age 83, died Saturday in Charleston. He was born in Hell Hole Swamp in Berkley County, served in WWII, the House and the Senate.

McNair was Democratic governor during the tumultuous Civil Rights era, and famously sent the National Guard into Orangeburg, SC in 1968:

Although South Carolina avoided the level of bloodshed seen in Alabama and other Southern states during the civil rights movement, an incident at South Carolina State University in February 1968 weighed heavily on McNair, he told his biographer and former speechwriter, Philip Grose.

McNair, a Democrat, was governor during what would come to be known as the Orangeburg Massacre. Three students were shot to death by state troopers and 27 were injured on the S.C. State campus following two days of protests over a segregated bowling alley.

McNair had sent troopers and members of the National Guard to Orangeburg to keep the protests peaceful.

In a biography Grose published last year, "South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights," McNair took responsibility for the massacre.

"The fact that I was governor at the time placed the mantle of responsibility squarely on my shoulders, and I have borne that responsibility with all the heaviness it entails for all those years," he is quoted as saying.

Left: The victims of the Orangeburg Massacre, Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith. There were also 27 other young people wounded.

Many folks, I have discovered, are completely unfamiliar with the Orangeburg Massacre:
On the night of February 8th, 1968, officers of the law opened fire on protesting students on the campus of South Carolina State College at Orangeburg. When the shooting stopped, three young men were dead and twenty-seven other students, male and female, were seriously wounded. What had begun as an attempt by peaceful young people to use the facilities of a local bowling alley had become a violent confrontation between aroused students and the coercive power of the state. This tragedy was the first of its kind on any American college campus and became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

When gunfire felled students again two years later at Kent State University in Ohio, banner headlines carried the news to every corner of the globe. But the Orangeburg tragedy prompted little news coverage in national media, and most of that was superficial and distorted. The victims at Kent State were white students protesting an unpopular war. At Orangeburg, the dead and wounded were black students seeking equal treatmewnt and opprtunity. Most reporters were willing to accept without question the “official version” peddled by state and federal authorities on the scene. The students, parents, the president of the college, and members of the faculty had a different story to tell, but no one wanted to hear.

Orangeburg Massacre - Wikipedia
Historic Places of the Civil Rights movement: SCSU Historical District, Orangeburg

Listening to: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Mary, Mary
via FoxyTunes