Nobody expected troopers to open fire, Dr. Cleveland Sellers says

Feb 09, 2018

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A reporter interviews Dr. Cleveland Sellers after the event at S.C. State.  More photos below story. (Panther photo by Jericha White)

South Carolina State University hosted a panel discussion about the Orangeburg Massacre's legacy on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

The event took place in the Barbara Vaughan Recital Hall on South Carolina State’s campus. The panelists were Dr. Cleveland Sellers, Judy Richardson and Bakari Sellers.

“Nobody expected the law enforcement to come on campus and open fire,” Cleveland Sellers said of the events on the night of Feb. 8, 1968, when state patrolmen killed three students and wounded 28 others protesting segregation at an Orangeburg bowling alley.

Sellers, a survivor of the tragedy, said the State of South Carolina immediately created a false narrative about the events that led to the shooting. This ultimately led to his arrest, which resulted in an unjust conviction, said Sellers, who was pardoned 25 years later.

“It was so absurd,” Sellers said.  

Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state representative, said the Orangeburg Massacre occurred because society did not value black bodies. He also said that if the students had been white, there would have been some form of justice.

“Universally you can see that black lives weren’t valued in 1968 and they still aren’t valued in 2018,” Sellers said. 

In response to a question about the news media’s credibility, film producer Judy Richardson said one must be selective when looking for valid news sources. She also said it is important to gather information from different sources before making a critical opinion.

“I know that I have to get news somewhere,” Richardson said.

Regarding the FBI, Richardson said she acknowledges the agency’s racist history, but she does not agree with President Donald Trump’s current criticism of the FBI.

“What Trump is trying to do is chip away anything that will oppose his regime, which includes the FBI and the news,” she said.

When asked about the current state of race in America, Dr. Sellers said black people need to obtain power in order to change the narrative about black issues. He also said that unity among black people is important.

The panel discussion ended with statements from audience members.

One woman said, “They are going to have an account for what they did. But we are going to be all right.”

Stephan Boykins, a sophomore at Claflin University, said, “It was interesting to hear Dr. Sellers talk about changing the black narrative. He provided a lot of insight.”

After the event, Bakari Sellers, a CNN political commentator, said he does not believe young black people are engaged enough in politics.

“It’s part of our job as candidates to get people more excited about politics,” he said.

Dr. Sellers also said Black Lives Matter should not be the only organization that young black people join. “There’s room for other organizations.”

Dr. Sellers and Richardson were active members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1968. Richardson later helped produce and direct “Scarred Justice,” which told the story of the Orangeburg Massacre.

Sellers also severed as the director of African American studies at the University of South Carolina and later became the president of Voorhees College.

Bakari Sellers, son of Dr. Sellers, served in the S.C. House of Representatives for eight years beginning with his election in 2006 as the youngest-ever state lawmaker. He is currently an attorney with the Strom Law Firm in Columbia.

The Orangeburg Massacre occurred on Feb. 8, 1968, at approximately 10:30 pm. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, which took the lives of Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond and Delano Middleton.

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A woman reads from displays at S.C. State about the Orangeburg Massacre. (Panther photo by Jericha White)

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S.C. State displays chronicle the events of 1968. (Panther photo by Jerica White)

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Dr. Cleveland Sellers speaks during the SCSU forum. (Panther photo by Olanma Hazel Mang)

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Bakari Sellers speaks during the SCSU forum. (Panther photo by Olanma Hazel Mang)

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