A black kid out of Fort Lauderdale, a freshman in college and an aspiring NFL player, Samuel Hammond Jr. died at 18 because he wanted to bowl.
On Feb. 8, 1968, Hammond joined in on a protest at the South Carolina State campus in Orangeburg, two days after students from the predominantly black college got turned down at the city’s only bowling alley. White state troopers opened fire on the unarmed group, killing Hammond, Henry Smith and Delano Middleton, and injuring 28 others.
The shootings, known as the “Orangeburg Massacre,” marked the first such tragedy on any American college campus. But the episode quickly fell into national obscurity. No one was held accountable for the deadly violence. More than a year later, the nine troopers were acquitted in a federal court.
Last year, Hammond’s family and his 1967 class at Fort Lauderdale’s Stranahan High created a modest scholarship fund to bring his life and death to public awareness, and memorialize Hammond’s role in history.
For the second consecutive year, the Samuel Hammond Memorial Athletic Scholarship has awarded two seniors with $390 each. The 2010 recipients, O-Carl Robinson and Jerrika Hedgewood, each presented an essay on how the Orangeburg Massacre affects them now.
“I remember him as our big brother, Bubba,” said Zenobbie Clark, Hammond’s sister. “He did not like us lagging behind him, but took his job as a big brother very seriously. He was our leader, our role model and had a wonderful personality. Everybody liked him.”
Diana Carter, Ham-mond’s younger sister and a teacher at Plantation High School, said the scholarship is also an effort to bring the struggle against segregation “close to home.”
She added, “We want kids to understand how racism now is so minute compared to then. When we were growing up, everything was starkly delineated by race.”
Racism was the primary cause of the massacre, and academics and survivors attribute the lack of national outrage to the misleading, racially biased press coverage at the time. No footage was recorded, and The Associated Press initially misreported the incident as “a heavy exchange of gunfire.”
Dr. Cleveland L. Sellers Jr., the only person convicted in connection to the shootings, said the federal justice department never conducted a proper investigation.
“The state has up to this day, taken a position to distance itself from accepting responsibility,” he said. “[The state] is there to protect you and provide those things that are necessary, and it violated all those principles.”
Sellers, then the national program director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was shot in the shoulder during the incident.
He said South Carolina Governor Robert E. McNair called him a “black power advocate” and two years later he was sentenced to a one-year term for “inciting a riot.”
The event was documented in the book, The Orangeburg Massacre, by Jack Bass, who covered the shootings for The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina and Jack Nelson, who covered Orangeburg for the Los Angeles Times.
Bass, who refers to the massacre in his webpage as “a stained page in history,” visited the local hospital, talked to the victims, and verified that they had been shot in their backs, sides, and even soles of their feet as they fled the gunfire that erupted without warning.
Sellers also argues that Bass and Nelson’s book is, to this day, “the closest thing that was done to an investigation” and that if the state had taken serious action, later tragedies could have been prevented.
Now president of Voorhees College in South Carolina, Sellers teaches a survey on civil rights. He says his lectures focus on broadening the college audience’s knowledge about how young people such as Hammond were intricate in bringing about change.
In 2007, Seller’s son, South Carolina state rep. Bakari Sellers introduced a bill to create a blue ribbon committee to further investigate the case. But the bill never made it out of committee.
In Georgia, Emma McCain, one of the massacre’s survivors, said the dehumanizing effects of the racist episode in her life were many. A professional counselor, she said she suffered for years from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a beating by two policemen at the bowling alley incident.
“I didn’t know what to do, I would just walk around campus, not being able to concentrate,” said McCain, who never pressed charges and later dropped out of school. “It was all unjustified and I harbored a lot of bitterness…at one point, I just hated white people.”
A year after the shootings, S. C. State named a new health and physical education building after Hammond, Smith and Middleton; and erected a granite marker to pay them homage for dying “in pursuit of human dignity.” For 41 years, Hammond’s sisters or other family members have attended an annual memorial, which ends at the marker.
An excerpt from The Orangeburg Massacre says that, “Exactly 32 years later, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges addressed an overflow crowd there in the Martin Luther King Jr.
Auditorium and referred directly to the ‘Orangeburg Massacre’—an identifying term for the event that itself had been controversial among South Carolinians. Gov. Hodges called what happened ‘a great tragedy for our state’ and expressed ‘deep regret.”’
But the sisters said those actions are not enough.
“We want an investigation to say guards from South Carolina offer sincere apologies, were wrong, and that what they did should never have happened,” Carter said. “Once the legislation is closed we can move on.”
Until then, she added, their only recourse is to tell the shameful story to the world.
“We want people to know our brother did not die in vain,” she said.
Photo: Samuel Hammond Jr.