50 Years After The Orangeburg Massacre, Survivor Seeks Justice In South Carolina Fifty years ago this week, three people were killed and more than 20 wounded during a demonstration against racial segregation in Orangeburg, S.C., in what became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
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50 Years After The Orangeburg Massacre, Looking For Justice In South Carolina

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50 Years After The Orangeburg Massacre, Looking For Justice In South Carolina

50 Years After The Orangeburg Massacre, Looking For Justice In South Carolina

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Fifty years ago this week, three people were killed and more than 20 wounded during a demonstration against racial segregation at a bowling alley in South Carolina.

CLEVELAND SELLERS: In 1968, four years after the Civil Rights Bill was passed, the owner of the bowling alley put a sign in the window saying members only.

SIMON: Cleveland Sellers was a civil rights coordinator who recently spoke with South Carolina Public Radio. He was shot during what would become known as the Orangeburg massacre. He said that members only sign caught the attention of students at the historically black South Carolina State University.

SELLERS: The students of South Carolina State had a long and very rich history of engagements in civil rights activities. So it was like waving a red flag in front of the students.

SIMON: Tensions were high after four days of protests. Cleveland Sellers was on campus to talk to the students and try and help avoid conflict with the police. When he got there, he discovered the police had already drawn their guns.

SELLERS: When I got to the group, that's when, you know, the firing started up. And it was just popping and shooting. You could smell the gunfire. And I got hit. When I went down, I almost did a spread-eagle - almost like a belly-flop getting onto the ground. And I could also hear the students saying, help me. I've been hit. I'm shot.

SIMON: Three African-American men were killed that night. The federal government later charged state police officers with using excessive force at a campus protest. All nine defendants were acquitted. But Cleveland Sellers went to prison on trumped-up riot charges. Twenty-five years later, he was pardoned. Mr. Sellers says that misinformation at the time, like reports of student gunfire, convinced many people that the police had acted correctly. There has still never been an official state investigation into what really happened that night.

SELLERS: Justice was not served and still has not been served. I keep being hopeful that someone will come along and get the state to look at the Orangeburg massacre. Let's get the truth straight and do what we need to do to deal with the pain and move on to a point where we can get past this.

SIMON: Until then, Cleveland Sellers says the Orangeburg massacre will remain an open wound. Our thanks to South Carolina Public Radio's Tut Underwood.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOWERCASE NOISES' "PASSAGE")

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