‘It’s our turn’: Ceremony remembers Orangeburg Massacre
Feb 23, 2016
The 48th annual commemoration of the Orangeburg Massacre was held at South Carolina State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium on Feb. 8, with a top AME Church official telling the crowd there is work to be done to eliminate racism in America.
The program was titled “Social Change Inspires Freedoms,” with attendance from S.C. State, Claflin University, Voorhees College and the Orangeburg community. The ceremony remembers the three students killed and 28 wounded when state troopers fired shots into a crowd protesting segregation at an Orangeburg bowling alley on Feb. 8, 1968.
The Rev. Joseph Darby, presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, told the audience, “It’s your time.”
“You can shop and dine in any restaurant that you choose, but you’ll still get followed in some stores for potential shoplifting, you’ll still struggle to find a decent job in the corporate community that’s more likely to hire Jonathan than Jamal. It’s your turn.”
“Those who came before you faced more racist figures who sometimes wore badges, but now you have to face new figures who wear business suits and run for political office and who make inflammatory political noise about taking their country back. It’s your turn,” Darby said.
“We’ve come a long way since Feb. 8, 1968, but there’s still work to be done. Jim Crow may be dead, but James Crow Jr. is alive and well, so you have to join the battle of social change, you have to prepare yourself to stand up and speak out and say like those who stood on this campus many years ago shouted ‘I’m not going to let anyone turn me around.’ It’s your turn,” Darby said.
Gloria Pyles, a 1970 graduate of S.C. State and director of the Title III Program, recalled the night of the Orangeburg Massacre, which is the title of about the incident.
The males directed women to return to their rooms. They were glad they listened, she said.
“Minutes after hearing the gunshots, several male friends came to our dormitory to tell us what had just happened and to console us,” Pyles said. “While shedding tears for fellow students who we had been told had been injured or killed, something just happened in that moment of learning about the tragedy of our friends and fellow students,” she said.
“The relationship amongst me and my peers just changed. We were no longer just friends, no longer were we buddies that studied together, friends that ate lunch together, we became family, forming an indestructible bond,” Pyles said.
Kenneth E. Middleton, president and CEO of The Middleton Companies, and Orangeburg Mayor Michael C. Butler gave greetings during the program.
Middleton noted that his mother worked at S.C. State and he was only 12 years old when the incident occurred on Feb. 8, 1968.
He asked a question to the audience, “What can we do? And what can we do now?”
In response, he answered, “Smith, Hammond and Middleton gave the ultimate price. We all need to continue to pay something.”
Middleton said, “We need to continue to make the county a better place to live, work and play.”