Protest in the wake of the Orangeburg Massacre

Five Points - W. Main at W. Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC 27701

Student protesters outraged by the killing of black college students at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg amassed at five points to express their anger. A coffin was set on fire prompting local fire and police official to try to intervene. Durham had not experienced this kind of violent protest making this a particularly significant event in Durham's civil rights history.

On February 15, 1968 a sympathy service for the Orangeburg Massacre held in Five Points Park, Durham escalated into a riot. (1)  The demonstrators were lighting fires in protest of the shooting of several blacks by police at a historically black college in South Carolina, which prompted the fire department to put out the fire and subsequently use the hoses to suppress the demonstrators.  The embodied protest of the demonstrators was particularly confrontational and occasionally violent.  The circumstances of the Orangeburg Massacre and escalation by the police triggered strong reactions among black protesters that were not present during other protests such as the solemn march through Durham after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. (2)  A map marker at the Five Points Park would highlight a moment in Durham’s history where clashes between activists and authorities threatened engulf the city in violence.

The killing of young black college students in the Orangeburg Massacre threatened to become a precedent for racial violence in South, which triggered outrage amongst blacks. (1)  One poster at the protest displayed a police badge along with the text “They have replaced sheets with badges,” indicating a belief in police violence as an extension of Klan violence. (3)  This map marker could explore the black community’s reaction towards the relationship of non-institutional (Klan) and institutional (police) violence.  The escalation of black protest following the Orangeburg Massacre also indicates a different level of tolerance of violent action versus discriminatory action.

Howard Fuller’s behavior and subsequent arrest demarcates a boundary of embodied protest that black activists were pushing against.  He intervened when a black protestor was about to be hit in the head by a police truncheon, despite being already restrained. (1)  Fuller denied assaulting the officer and said that, “If I ever assault a cop, he’s going to leave there with some physical markings.”  This statement shows that Fuller both considered a violent action and decided to stop with a forceful but measured intervention on behalf of another protestor.  In order to protect themselves or acquire their protest aims, activists would press the boundary between peaceable and confrontational embodied protest.

Ann Atwater’s subsequent intervention at the jail on behalf of Howard Fuller is another escalation in response to pressure from authorities.  She occupied the jail door and cursed out anyone who got near her. (1)  Officers nearby were intimidated and unable to move her.  Her actions were not physically violent, but were confrontational and aggressive all the same.   Atwater put her body on the line as a passive protest and as an active weapon to achieve her interests.­­ Considering the indignation people felt at the time, this sort of embodied protest might have been viewed with approval while earlier protests may have not.  The Royal Ice Cream Parlor Sit-In in 1957, for example, drew little support from male black activists, female organizers, churches, and the black elite, due to Douglas Moore’s failure to inform these constituencies.  (4)  Howard Fuller, on the other hand, built a strong base of community support that may have helped him justify more oppositional protest.  (2).

Works Cited

  1. Davidson, Osha Gray. "Chapter 10." The Best of Enemies - Race and Redemption in the New South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1196. 216-217. Print.
  2. Cerese, Rebecca. 2008. Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the North Carolina Fund, Film
  3. Boyarsky, Bill. "Orangeburg Sympathy Protest - 5 - Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project: Our Pictures and Stories - Durham County Library." Orangeburg Sympathy Protest - 5 - Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project: Our Pictures and Stories - Durham County Library. Durham County Library, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2012. <>.
  4. Greene, Christina. "The Sisters Behind Brothers." Our Seperate Ways. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, n.d. 65-67. Print.