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Backlash and Limits

As Black South Carolinians advocated for their civil rights, they faced resistance and retaliation. White supremacist organizations used violence, threats, and financial squeeze tactics, while lawmakers targeted civil rights activists. Mobs targeted school desegregation, sometimes injuring children.

Nonviolent protests faced deadly reprisals. On February 8, 1968, when students protested a segregated bowling alley in Orangeburg, S.C. Highway Patrol officers fired into the crowd, killing three and injuring twenty-seven. Responding to the massacre, Governor Robert McNair blamed “Black Power advocates.”

October 1950

The people who built the Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit, which was core of Brown v. Board of Education, were targeted for their activism. Many left Clarendon County, and some were forced to leave South Carolina entirely.

In October 1950, terrorists supporting segregation burned down the home of Rev. Joseph and Mattie DeLaine to try to stop Rev. DeLaine from organizing a court case for educational rights. Five years later, Rev. DeLaine’s church in Lake City, St. James A.M.E., was also burned.

Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library

The DeLaines stand in front of the rubble of their home. Only a brick chimney and a brick column remain.
Law enforcement surrounds an overturned school bus

March 3, 1970

Violent backlash was often targeted at school desegregation. On March 3, 1970, a White mob attacked Black students on school buses in Lamar, South Carolina. Using ax handles, chains and bricks, a mob of 200 White men and women targeted buses carrying Black children to an integrated school. The rioters injured many of the students and overturned two of the buses after police evacuated the students.

United Press International, originally published in The New York Times

“Within seconds, every window in the bus was broken out and glass was in my face and ears… I saw men with sticks, chains, bricks.”

David Lunn Lamar, SC, 1970


Civil rights activists faced retaliation for their participation in protests and for membership in the NAACP. Besides direct threats against individuals, activists met systemic efforts by state and local governments, organizations such as White Citizens Councils, and business owners to hinder progress in civil and human rights.

1963 Gloria Rackley (Blackwell) speaks about her dismissal from her position as a public school teacher because of her involvement in civil rights activity.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

White Citizens' Council flyer with Confederate Flag.

White Citizens Councils members at businesses and banks used financial squeeze tactics against African Americans: firing people from jobs, refusing to sell necessary items for farms or businesses, forcing them off rented land, calling mortgages due. Members of White Citizens Councils were also school and government officials and fought the Briggs v. Elliott case.
Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

July 2, 1964 Strom Thurmond speaks against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 before its passage, claiming that most senators had not read it and that it would place too much power in the hands of the federal government. He calls it “obnoxious, power-grab legislation” and “tyranny and totalitarianism.” He says Southern senators would use Senate rules to delay it “indefinitely if necessary.”
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

White people in Klan robes stand outside a business.

Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans with direct violence and threats.
Photograph by Bill Barley, Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

June 20, 1963 Strom Thurmond, a prominent South Carolina politician, speaks against civil rights legislation.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

“Students were hollering, yelling and running. I went into a slope near the front end of the campus and I kneeled down. I got up to run, and I took one step; that’s all I can remember. I got hit in the back.”

Robert Davis Survivor of the Orangeburg Massacre

Silhouettes of armed National Guardsmen lit by headlights.

February 8, 1968

On February 8, 1968, after three days of demonstrations, South Carolina State College students gathered at the edge of campus to protest segregation at the local All Star Bowling Lane. The demonstrations were organized by students with the support of Cleveland Sellers, a Denmark, South Carolina native and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee officer.

Photograph by Bill Barley, Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

As the students congregated at the edge of campus, a line of heavily armed South Carolina Highway Patrolmen lined the street opposite and fired into the crowd. They wounded twenty-seven demonstrators and killed three: Samuel Hammond Jr., Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith. The wounded students were shot in the back, side, or soles of their feet as they attempted to flee.

Portraits of Hammond, Middleton, and Smith

Aftermath of the Orangeburg Massacre

After the Orangeburg Massacre on February 8, 1968, protests erupted across South Carolina. Governor Robert McNair responded by sending more police and troops.
Armed National Guardsmen march down a street at night.

1968 Governor Robert McNair sent the National Guard to Orangeburg to halt the protests. He blamed the Orangeburg Massacre on “Black Power advocates.”
Photograph by Bill Barley, Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

After the Orangeburg Massacre, students protested and demanded better treatment. Some of their demands were heard in official settings.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

Protester with sign "McNair's Shock Troops + Hired Assassins are On Display."

1968 Students organized demonstrations in the wake of the Massacre, including this march at the South Carolina State House.
Photograph by Bill Barley, Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collections

February 1968 Protesters carrying signs critical of South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and Orangeburg police march in front of the State House in the aftermath of the Orangeburg Massacre.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

March 7, 1968 Wayne Curtis of BACC leads student demonstrators protesting the Orangeburg Massacre at the South Carolina State House.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections

1968 After law enforcement escalated existing tensions and fired into a crowd of protesters, Cleveland Sellers was arrested for inciting a riot, despite being unarmed.
Courtesy of University of South Carolina Special Collections

1968 Cleveland Sellers, who was shot during the Orangeburg Massacre, was convicted of inciting a riot and spent seven months in prison.

Cleveland Sellers wears a Howard Athletics t-shirt and stands with several women.

Cleveland L. Sellers Jr.

Educator and civil rights activist

Cleveland L. Sellers Jr.

Educator and civil rights activist

In 1968, Sellers was wounded when SC Highway Patrol officers fired on student activists protesting segregation in Orangeburg. Sellers was the only person convicted of a crime and was pardoned in 1993.

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Protesters march around Confederate Monument at SC State House

1968 Students organized protests in Orangeburg and across the state in response to the Orangeburg Massacre.

1968 Nine officers were tried for the shootings but found not guilty.
Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections