All Star Bowling in Orangeburg served as the starting point for an historic, violent, and tragic event known as the Orangeburg Massacre. The only bowling alley in a city that contains two historically black schools – Claflin College and South Carolina State University – All Star prohibited African-Americans from entering its premises, even four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 desegregated all public places.
Owner Harry K. Floyd refused to integrate his bowling alley, claiming it was exempt from federal law. On the evening of Monday, February 5, 1968, several black students marched to All Star as part of an organized protest led by South Carolina State senior John Stroman; as expected, they were refused service. Floyd called the police, who arrived and forced Floyd to close the bowling alley for the rest of the night. The following evening, between 30 and 40 students, again led by Stroman, returned to the bowling alley. Police arrived along with State Law Enforcement Division head Pete Strom, who had been dispatched by Governor Robert McNair to quell the demonstration. Stroman asked the the female students to leave in order to protect them from arrest, but 15 young men remained.
In the meantime, more students arrived. As the protesters were loaded into waiting patrol cars, witnesses became increasingly unruly, especially after a firetruck entered the parking lot. Firehoses had been unleashed on Orangeburg students during a Civil Rights march a few years before, and memories remained raw. Several of those gathered were beaten with bully sticks, including at least two women, Emma McCain and Louise Cawley. Over the next two days, agitation escalated among both students and the troops deployed by McNair and Strom. In all, more than 550 national, state, and local law enforcement agents gathered in Orangeburg with tanks, rifles, pistols, and shotguns.
Just a year before, Governor McNair – who received 99% of the black vote in his gubernatorial campaign – claimed, “I intend to use all of the authority and influence at my command to see that the good name of our state is not tarnished.” Governor McNair was referring to the unrest experienced by other states during desegregation and made it his mission to integrate South Carolina as seamlessly as possible. However, there were holdouts – such as Floyd – who made the transition difficult. As then-Charleston mayor J. Palmer Gaillard said, “Our biggest problems were not with the blacks, but with whites.”
By the evening of Thursday, February 8, both local black campuses had been placed on lockdown. Nearly 70 armed law enforcement officers lined the main entrance to South Carolina State, where students had gathered around a bonfire to keep warm. The students held hands, sang protest songs, and chanted. At 10:30 PM, firemen moved in to douse the flames. Frustrated, the students turned and began to retreat. There were no street lights, and it was almost completely dark. Minutes later, a state trooper was struck in the face by an object. Tensions flared, and some officers later stated that they thought their colleague had been shot. Another officer fired a shot into the air, allegedly as a warning to the protesters, which triggered nine other officers to fire their weapons into the crowd. As a result, three students were fatally shot, while 28 others were hit while fleeing the scene. All of the youngsters were unarmed, and all but a few were shot in their backs or on the soles of their feet. The 28th wounded victim was not recognized until 2008.
The following morning the headline on the front page of the local paper, The Times and Democrat, read, “All Hell Breaks Loose – Three Killed and Many Injured in College Nightmare.” In the wake of the tragedy, there was a federal investigation and two trials, one in which all nine of the white men who shot into the crowd were acquitted and another in which Cleveland Sellers, a native of Bamberg County, was convicted of inciting a riot and sentenced to one year in prison. (Released early for good behavior, Sellers served seven months, during which time his first child was born. The conviction came two-and-a-half years after the event.) All Star Bowling was forced by a federal judge to desegregate.
Despite the federal investigation, to date there has been no state investigation, and Governor McNair was widely criticized following the shootings. In a press conference held the morning after the tragedy, Governor McNair downplayed the event as an “unfortunate incident,” placed blame on “black power advocates,” and dispensed incorrect information such as claiming that the shootings happened off campus. While it is now understood that McNair was misinformed on the details before he spoke publicly of the event, many prior supporters of the governor – both black and white – expressed disappointment in his statements. As a result, McNair, at one time considered a possible candidate for the Vice Presidency, never ran for public office again. However, before he left office, Governor McNair acknowledged that the Orangeburg Massacre was a “scar on our state’s conscience.” He also claimed responsibility for the tragedy as governor in his 2006 biography.
Cleveland Sellers, who had formerly been a program director of the national Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was a participant in the events that winter, though not a leader. Used as a scapegoat because of his fame, he spent his time in prison writing his autobiography, River of No Return. He later received a master’s degree from Harvard University and a Doctorate of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The author of several books, Dr. Sellers was officially pardoned in 1993. After teaching African-American studies at the University of South Carolina, he served as the president of Voorhees College in his hometown of Denmark from 2008 until his retirement in the spring of 2016.
A memorial dedicated to the young men who lost their lives was erected on the campus of South Carolina State in 1969 (pictured in the two above photos). Harry K. Floyd died in 2002, leaving All Star Bowling to his son. The bowling alley closed in 2007.
Much of the above information came from the book, The Orangeburg Massacre, by Jack Nelson and Dr. Jack Bass. Dr. Bass is a noted author, journalist, and Orangeburg County native who covered the story for the Charlotte Observer. He is also Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Social Sciences at the College of Charleston. Dr. Bass is widely considered the authority on the event due not only to his experience as a witness while covering the protests, but also for his later efforts to interview many involved, including those who were shot, as well as for his decades of research since the shootings occurred. Dr. Bass continues to advocate for a state investigation of the shootings.
All Star Bowling is listed in the National Register:
The All Star Bowling Lanes and its parking lot is significant for its role in the confrontation at South Carolina State College during February of 1968, commonly referred to as the “Orangeburg Massacre.” Most of Orangeburg’s public accommodations desegregated soon after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the management of the All Star Bowling Lanes refused to do so claiming that such establishments were not covered under the new law. As the city’s only bowling alley, this segregationist policy inflamed local African-Americans, especially the students at S.C. State and Claflin. Desegregation attempts in the years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were unsuccessful.
In 1968, protests occurred in the bowling alley on January 29 and February 5. On February 6 a violent confrontation occurred in the bowling alley’s parking lot. These events culminated two nights later with the shooting on the campus of S.C. State. The significance of the property is further increased by the ineligibility of other properties associated with the shooting at S.C. State due to demolition or loss of integrity. The bowling alley was built in the early 1960s as part of a shopping center development. The current commercial setting for the All Star Bowling Lanes is the same as its historic one.