A documentary chronicling the events of the Orangeburg Massacre will be shown for the first time Sunday at S.C. State University, where a 1968 desegregation protest led to a bloody tragedy with three young people dead and others injured.
The 57-minute film, which took 10 years and $340,000 to make, includes archival footage and interviews of key figures like then-S.C. Gov. Robert McNair and civil rights activist and Voorhees College President Cleveland Sellers.
S.C. State officials convinced the filmmakers to allow the documentary called "Scarred Justice" to be shown first on its campus.
It is scheduled to be shown in Charleston at Burke High School on Monday at 7 p.m.
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"We viewed the documentary yesterday," S.C. State President George Cooper said Wednesday. "It's powerful. We're looking forward to the community coming and seeing it."
A religious, nondenominational service will be held at nearby Claflin University's chapel at 7 a.m., with the film being shown at S.C. State's Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium at 3 p.m.
The film will be followed by a tree-planting ceremony at a spot on S.C. State's campus where those who died are honored.
Sellers, wounded when law enforcement fired on protesters who had gathered on S.C. State's campus in Orangeburg, was interviewed for the documentary. So was McNair, who, before he died in 2007, said he accepted "responsibility" for the massacre but did not apologize for it.
In 1968, McNair blamed outside black power agitators for the tragedy.
Sellers was the only person tried, convicted and jailed for a crime connected to the massacre. Law enforcement officers were tried but acquitted.
Attempts to reach Sellers for comment were unsuccessful. S.C. State officials said he has agreed to attend Sunday's premiere.
Some, including the filmmakers and many educators, are sure the Orangeburg Massacre isn't well known in South Carolina, and it is almost completely unknown outside the state, something filmmakers Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson are seeking to change.
"One of the things we want to see through this is reconciliation," Richardson said.
It remains unclear precisely what happened when black students gathered to protest a bowling alley whose white owner, Harry Floyd, would not allow blacks in.
The film does not answer a central question of the tragedy -- the origin of the first shot fired -- but it does offer distinct voices that take viewers back to one of the most turbulent years in history.
There is Bill Barley, a photographer for McNair, describing Orangeburg in the late 1960s.
"It was a Jim Crow town, just like so many others in the South," Barley said.
There is Robert "Red" Davis, a sophomore at S.C. State in 1968, describing life for blacks in Orangeburg at that time.
"We couldn't hardly go nowhere," he said. "Police gonna mess with you. Then, you had people coming by, hollering all kinds of things. It was just real tough down here for black people, especially students."
And there is Floyd, explaining in archival footage why he would not allow blacks into his establishment.
"Because I have my own customers that patronize me 52 weeks a year," Floyd said. "They support me year in and year out. I need no other business."
Jackie Epps, S.C. State's interim vice president for institutional advancement, remembers the massacre well.
He was a junior in 1968 and was among those gathered for the protest. As it became colder, Epps returned to his dorm to get a jacket. He was not prepared for what he saw when he returned.
"It was a combat zone. It was horrifying screaming, moaning. I think it's fortunate only three students died. There were students laying out all around. I spent a year in combat in Vietnam, and I never saw anything like that. It was horrific."
The massacre took place Feb. 8, 1968, just as the Tet Offensive was exploding in Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, and Robert Kennedy was killed two months later.
But one of the film's makers, Bestor Cram, said the obscurity of the massacre is itself a tragedy.
"When a tragedy and an injustice takes place and it disappears, two tragedies and two injustices take place."
Want to go?
What: Ceremonies marking the 41st anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre, including a screening of the documentary film "Scarred Justice" about the incident
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium on the campus of S.C. State University