Former Governor Takes Responsibility for 1968 Killings of Three Black Students at South Carolina State University

In early February 1968, black students at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg mounted a protest at a segregated bowling alley in town. On February 8, students lit a bonfire on campus. One police officer was struck in the face with a piece of wood. Officers then opened fire, killing three students and wounding another 27. The incident became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

Nine police officers faced trial for using excessive force. All were acquitted. The only person jailed as a result of the event was Cleveland Sellers, a black student who had played a role in organizing the demonstration. Sellers was later pardoned and now heads the African-American studies program at the University of South Carolina.

Now, in a new book, Robert E. McNair, who was governor of South Carolina at that time, takes the blame for the Orangeburg Massacre. McNair, who was generally considered a progressive in race relations, tells biographer Philip G. Grose, “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.”