Film €Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968€ Depicts Little Known Southern Tragedy

Edith Billups | 5/7/2009, 12:16 a.m.

African-American students protesting a segregated bowling alley on Feb. 8, 1968, in Orangeburg, S.C. would be fired on by police, leaving more than 27 students wounded and three dead.

Many Americans don€t recall the incident, but a powerful documentary called €Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968€ recounts this little known piece of history and will be shown Fri. May 8 as part of the Maryland Film Festival.

Produced and directed by civil rights activist and film maker Judy Richardson and director/producer/cinematographer Bestor Cram, the documentary €shows what can happen when you have an abuse of state power that goes uninvestigated,€ said Richardson, a former staff worker with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

€I have talked with historians who dealt this period, but unless they are specialists in the civil rights movement, it is unknown to them. It gets erased,€ Richardson said. A native of NY, Richardson began her film work with the Academy Award-nominated PBS series, Eyes on the Prize and produced the History Channel film, Slave Catchers, Slave Resisters.

A senior producer with Northern Light Productions, which was founded by Cram in 1982, Richardson said she became involved with the project when she joined the staff of Northern Lights in 2002.

€Bestor said he had a story that he thought I would be interested in. I knew about the story because I had been in SNCC. For several years, we did shoots and did interviews on northern Light€s dime,€ Richardson said.

After many applications, the project received funding in 2006 from ITVS, a funding agency for PBS programming. Additional funding came from The National Black Programming Consortium.

Richardson said that many have never heard of the incident €because the state was successful in pushing it under the rug. It happened in an environment that allowed them to do it. This was the time of the urban riots, and Detroit and Newark were going on. The state put out that there was an exchange of gunfire between the students and the law enforcement officers. The officers said the students charged them and they were defending themselves.€
According to Richardson, it took a matter of seconds for a peaceful student gathering on the campus of South Carolina state college to turn into in a massacre.

€An FBI investigation found no weapons and no evidence that the students had fired at all. The U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark said that he believed there was an abuse of power,€ Richardson said. A predominantly white jury, however, found the nine officers involved innocent. The film has been called €masterful€ by NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond.

€It casts a brilliant light on events shamefully obscured for decades,€ Bond said. Howard Zinn, author of A People€s History of the United States, added €This hidden piece of history has now been brought to light in a powerful, passionate documentary.€

In the film, viewers will see interviews with former South Carolina Gov. Robert McNair; two journalists, Jack Bass and Jack Nelson, who wrote a book about the incident; and many others, who provide a compelling account of the event.
€Nelson was the Atlanta bureau chief for the L.A. Times, and he was able to see the hospital records of those brought in. All of the students were shot in the back and the side as they were fleeing from the police,€ Richardson said.

The filmmaker noted that each year, South Carolina State, now South Carolina University, holds a commemoration for the students, €and the families of the three students who were killed and the students who were injured attend. We need to have a full investigation to determine how something as horrible as this could have happened. If we had, maybe Kent State, which happened two years later, could have been avoided.€

€Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968€ will be shown on May 8 at 9 p.m. at the MICA Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Richardson will speak on a panel, €Social Justice Films,€ on May 9 from 1:45 p.m.-3:15 p.m., in the festival€s tent village.
For more information on the complete festival line-up, visit www.mdfilmfest.com