Section: archive

Scarred Justice Screening Examines Unsolved Crime

By Gabriel Rom

In 1968, nine National Guard officers opened fire on a group of black men and women on the South Carolina State College Campus in Orangeburg, S.C., injuring 28 and killing four in what is now called the Orangeburg Massacre.

As one of its Black History Month events, the Office of Multicultural Affairs sponsored a screening of the documentary Scarred Justice, which chronicles the massacre.

In addition to the film, two panelists mediated a discussion after the screening on Feb. 27. Jack Shuler, an assistant professor of English at Denison University, an Orangeburg native and the author of Blood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town, spoke with Jerry Fryer, a 1970 graduate of South Carolina State College, who was at the shooting.

Mr. Fryer and Professor Shuler offered two different perspectives that perfectly complemented each other, said Andrew Firestone 14, who attended the event. Scarred Justice features interviews from those on both sides of the gunfire, clearly depicting the confusion among the students and patrolmen. I dont mind the stories of the patrolmen. … Its their higher-ups who allowed them to shoot that I have a problem with, Fryer said. The interviews depict the discrepancies in the events of the night, featuring several guardsmen swearing they heard gunshots from within the crowd, with survivors claiming otherwise. An investigation needs to happen. It needs to happen now. I just dont know if there is the will, Shuler said.

The film also explored the aftermath of the shooting, including the responses of the government and members of the community. In the wake of race riots in Detroit and Newark, the white citizens of Orangeburg were petrified, according to Shuler.

People thought New- ark was going to come to Orangeburg, he said.

We were aware of Black Power, but it wasnt an issue that was motivating us.

The government blamed outside agitators for the massacre, but no government agency ever visited the campus to look for the alleged gunners the police cited as the cause for the responsive fire, according to Shuler. There are so many holes in the preliminary investigation, he said.

The police had access to tear gas and rubber bullets, but they chose to use live ammunition because the weather conditions would render the gas ineffective. Unfortunately, the Orangeburg Massacre went largely unnoticed by the media and the government beyond South Carolina state lines. It was amazing how quickly people could forget, Shuler said.

The Orangeburg tragedy occurred 44 years ago, and an investigation has yet to occur. People died so you could go to school. People died so you could sit in a bowling alley, Fryer said. You never think about those things.

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