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Weary Feet, Rested Souls - Jacket Design by Julie Metz. Jacket Photograph: Selma March c 1978 Matt Heron/Take Stock
Weary Feet, Rested Souls
Hardback published
January 1998
Jacket Design by Julie Metz.

Weary Feet, Rested Souls - paperback cover
Weary Feet, Rested Souls Paperback published
February 1999


Orangeburg Massacre: Dealing honestly with tragedy and distortion

By Cleveland L. Sellers *

In the Jan. 2 edition, a book review by Lee Hendren of The Times and Democrat appeared in the local/state section. Overall, the review of "Weary Feet, Rested Souls" appeared on the surface to be fair and objective. A clear observation reveals some obvious distortions that would cause real historians to grieve.Mr. Hendren cited so-called samples of "errors that one hopes will be corrected in subsequent printings." It is obvious that Mr. Hendren has paid little attention to the facts of the tragedy found in Jack Nelson's and Jack Bass' definitive book, "The Orangeburg Massacre." Had Mr. Hendren read the book, he would have known the following facts:

The Orangeburg Massacre was not a so-called event but a historical tragedy that got its name from a similar occurrence in South Africa known as the Sharkville Massacre.

The Orangeburg Massacre is the only definitive record of the events surrounding the Orangeburg shooting. There was no state investigation, no local investigation, and no inquest. The FBI report is inconclusive.

The student movements of the 1960s sought social justice, equality and peace. By 1968 there already existed a coalition between civil rights and peace movements. Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made their anti-Vietnam War statement in February 1967. With this statement, the movement was officially on record in opposition to the war. There was no significant difference between students protesting on their campuses for civil rights or student protests against the war in Vietnam.

The gunmen in Orangeburg were not civilians. The S.C. Highway Patrol is a state agency. The critical issue is not the differences or similarities of the gunmen but "why the use of deadly force. " Deadly force was used in Orangeburg without the employment of any alternative methods of crowd control. The victims were irate-but-unarmed, black college and high school students. This issue raises very serious questions about the judgment of the authorities in charge. Deadly force was also used at Kent State in Ohio, Jackson State in Mississippi and North Carolina A&T University. The Kent State shooting is the only incident that was fully investigated. That investigation concluded that the use of deadly force was inappropriate and unnecessary.

The news reports on the Orangeburg tragedy were shoddy (of poor quality, shabby inferior) and distorted. That is a historical fact. The Associated Press initially reported that there was an exchange of gunfire between students and state troopers. There was never an exchange of gunfire. The AP photographer, Dozier Mobley, who was quoted about the exchange of gunfire admitted to Bass and Nelson that he was misquoted. He made some effort to correct the distortion, but most newspapers only ran retractions long after the damage had been done.

The Times and Democrat published a full-page advertisement three days after the shooting which was sponsored by the local chapter of the bigoted John Birch Society (a cousin to the Ku Klux Klan). This advertisement castigated civil rights and spoke of the so-called "communist influences" in the Civil Rights Movement. I doubt very seriously if this was a gesture of good faith or an effort to ease tension.

The Orangeburg Massacre was a precursor to the Kent State shooting. Because of the race of the students at SCSC and the AP reports, the massacre was viewed as an aberration. If the tragic errors and use of deadly force in Orangeburg had been analyzed more closely, the Kent State tragedy could possibly have been avoided.

If there is to be a serious effort to move beyond the Orangeburg tragedy and create the climate for healing, we must deal with the tragedy and distortions in all honesty.


* Now director of undergraduate studies in the African-American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina, Denmark native Cleveland L. Sellers was the only man ever charged in connection with the Orangeburg Massacre. He served seven months in prison for rioting,. In 1993, after 25 years, he was officially pardoned.


Originally Published: January 24, 1998
Orangeburg Times and Democrat


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