A transplanted Southerner explores the aftermath of the 1968 shootings of unarmed black college students by highway patrolmen in his hometown of Orangeburg, S.C.
When Shuler (English/Denison Univ.; Calling Out Liberty: The Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights, 2009, etc.) came across a copy of The Orangeburg Massacre (1970) by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson, what he read launched him on a quest to discover how the town had dealt with the event in the wake of the violence and the current status of race relations there. The author traveled to Orangeburg in 2009 and 2010 and interviewed dozens of people, including both blacks and whites who were there in 1968. Among his interviewees were businessmen, ministers, the mayor, even a highway patrolman, who happened to be the author's great-uncle. Their stories often conflict, reflecting their complicated feelings, perceptions and prejudices, the "narratives deep in the blood and bone of the community.” What is not in dispute is that many black students were injured, three were killed and nine highway patrolmen were tried and found not guilty. No compensation was made to victims' families, and one black civil-rights activist was tried, convicted of rioting, jailed and later pardoned. Although public officials have issued apologies, Shuler makes clear that the reconciliation process is long and begins with listening to and paying attention to each other's stories. Orangeburg remains a town struggling with a damaged reputation and divided by race and class. It is also, the author points out, a symptom of a larger problem across the country, which demands that we look at our history closely and come to grips with the underlying issue of racism.
Filled with the voices of men and women willingly or reluctantly responding to a journalist's probing, Shuler's report paints a dark picture with glimmers of light.