The big plans for the once-segregated bowling alley are now being realized, 54 years after state troopers shot into a group of Black students in what is now called the “Orangeburg Massacre.”
The National Park Service has helped a non-profit group to renovate All-Star Bowling Lanes after years of neglect. They are transforming it into a functional bowling alley with civil rights themes.
Three South Carolina troopers shot into the crowd at the campus of South Carolina State University, which is historically Black. The incident occurred on February 8, 1968. The shooting is still relatively unknown outside of the state. It’s not as well-known as the Kent State shooting that killed four students two years later.
The future Orangeburg All-Star Justice Center is being renovated by planners who hope to restore the nation’s memory of civil rights.
Ellen Zisholtz (President of the Center for Creative Partnerships), a nonprofit that bought the long-vacant building from an anonymous donor for $140,000, stated, “What we’re going have is a major National Heritage Site for Orangeburg, South Carolina, and the Nation.”
The project is being shaped by a board made up of survivors of the shooting, civil rights activists and community members. Their vision sees the lanes lit up, bustling, and every time someone bowls or strikes, a screen over the lane displays a fact about civil right history. The digital display will list visitors who have made a commitment towards racial justice and is displayed on the wall.
The National Park Service provided a $500,000 grant to help with renovations. It also added the bowling alley as part of its African American Civil Rights Network. Zisholtz stated that the grant will pay for architectural plans, new roofs, electrical and plumbing repairs, and possibly some facade work.
The board hopes that the project will also help to revitalize Orangeburg, a predominantly black town of approximately 13,000 people with a 27% poverty level.
Zisholtz gave the building’s entrance to Orangeburg residents last month. They used their phones to light high scores on a sidewall and take portraits against a background of empty lanes. Many recalled the stories of their family’s involvement in civil rights movements and the times they used to play pinball after the new bowling alley was built.
Willie Dean Odom brought along her grandchildren and children. “This is history.” “I wanted them to be part of the memories and to see what it was like.
The project provides a platform for those who were affected by the shootings, or who grew up under its shadow, to continue pushing for justice and making sure that the murders are a part of South Carolina’s history.
In 2003, the then-Gov. In 2003, Mark Sanford officially apologized for the state. Federally, the Justice Department indicated that it was still reviewing these killings as recently as December.
The state has not conducted a formal investigation or offered restitution for victims. The state police claimed that protesters fired first at troopers, but many of those wounded were hit in the back or bottom of their feet. Nine troopers were charged after an FBI investigation. They claimed they acted in self defense and were acquitted by a jury consisting of 10 White and 2 Black people.
Cleveland Sellers, a Black activist, was ultimately convicted. He was shot in the shoulder. He was pardoned twenty-five years later.
Sellers stated to The Associated Press, “We must continue to tell this story until justice prevails here in South Carolina.”
At South Carolina State, he spoke Tuesday during a ceremony to dedicate the busts dedicated to Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond and Henry Smith. These were the three young victims of the tragedy. Their likenesses were installed on campus in the Smith Hammond Middleton Legacy Plaza. Participants in a tribute ceremony lit three memorial candles Tuesday and placed three wreaths.
The public will be able to visit the All-Star Bowling Lanes on Tuesday, 54 years ago, before the renovations begin.