Power has to be taken, lawmaker says in remembering Orangeburg Massacre

Mar 06, 2021

 “Those forgetting history are destined to repeat it,” an attorney and state lawmaker said.

Bamberg County Rep. Justin Bamberg was featured speaker during the Feb. 8 remembrance of the Orangeburg Massacre, the Feb. 8, 1968, incident in which three students were killed and 28 wounded by S.C. state troopers near the South Carolina State University campus in Orangeburg during a protest over segregation at a bowling alley. The ceremony was held virtually.

Bamberg challenged people to seek out power -- socially, economically and politically.

“We have freedom, we have the ability to try to go to school, we have the ability to apply for jobs. We have so many opportunities that people who came before us didn't have. But we're being complacent.”

Bamberg told the story of a walk he took, seeing cows inside a fence. He pondered whether the cows would still be content sitting inside the fence if they knew one day they were going to slaughter.

Bamberg said the wiring on the fence was so thin that the cows did not even realize they were enclosed. He equated this with people who are complacent with the freedom they have been given. He also compared the bull he saw to a leader, and how it is strong enough to get through the fence.

"They are enclosed in what many don't even know to be fences. ... Most people are like those cows, and most leaders are like the bull that's in that fence. That bull alone has the size and power to break down that fence on its own, but it's got to be willing to go through a little bit pain of to get there."

Bamberg commended the students who decided “enough is enough” on that night in 1968.

“Those young kids had the courage to stand up to a system that they knew was not fair. They had the courage to fight to obtain power because power in this world is never given to all.”

Bamberg mentioned previous police brutality incidents, including George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed when a Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck on the ground with a knee, and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was fatally shot by police officers while playing outside of a recreation center in Ohio. 

“If we want to make sure that we're not another victim … we've got to be willing to give up what we have so we can get everything we're supposed to have. Make the rest of your life the best of your life," he said.

"We can commemorate them with monuments, but we can also team up and commemorate them with movements," he said.

Bamberg, founder of Bamberg Legal LLC, was presented with the 2021 Smith-Hammond-Middleton Justice Award during the virtual program. It is named for Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond and Delano Middleton, the three students killed in the Orangeburg Massacre.

The university will be constructing a monument to honor the three young men.

The chairperson of the Orangeburg Massacre Commemoration Committee, Davion Petty, announced the monument will include bronze busts of Smith, Hammond and Middleton. They were sculpted by Dr. Tolulope O. Filani, chairman of the university's visual and performing arts department.


According to a press release, South Carolina State also is planning to open a center designed to combat racism through training and the emphasizing of policies that advocate social justice. The center will be named E-Race, or Erasing Racism and Constructing Equity.

The S.C. State president, James Clark, announced plans for the center during the ceremony.

“Dealing with social injustice and racial injustice is at the core of who we are as an institution are. Back from the ‘60s and earlier, there has been a certain awareness and a certain sensitivity and a certain commitment to address such matters,” Clark said.

“Then with the Orangeburg Massacre, with three young African American men being killed right there on the campus, we clearly understand the value and remind everyone that Black lives do matter," he said.

The new E-RACE center will be located on SCSU’s campus. Dr. David Staten, a professor of rehabilitation counseling at S.C. State and chairman of the faculty senate, will direct the center’s operations.

He looks to begin planning several activities and training information in collaboration with university administration, faculty and students from various departments and disciplines as early as next fall, according to the press release.

“We’re looking at probably the fall of next year as being like year one of the center, and that year will pretty much just be a planning year. Then, in year two, we will actually start to implement a lot of the programs and activities that we’re proposing with the E-RACE Center,” Staten said.

Staten said he has connected with the presidents at Clemson and the University of South Carolina with the proposal to work together to promote anti-racism policies.

“We want to work with not just HBCUs, we also want to partner with some of PWIs (primarily white institutions) not just in South Carolina, but in the nation because we realize that you can’t address specifically by focusing on the African American community. We’re going to need partners in this, and we’re going to have to partner with some of our PWIs counterparts at our majority institutions,” the professor said.

Clark added, “When I did reach out to USC and Clemson on this, their presidents were very much supportive of us looking into the things that we can do going forward.”

Staten, who created the idea for the center, said the proposal for the center was made in response to racial injustices in America, most notably the death of George Floyd last year.

“I just feel like this center is very timely given everything that’s going on in the country.”

According to the university, a steering committee has been identified to oversee the development of a full center proposal during the spring 2021 semester.


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