The Orangeburg Massacre

Author: Kirsten Suprenant, Rivendell High School, Orford, NH
Grade Level:
Length of lesson:
Three 75-minute class periods
Download Activity

Historical Context:

  • Theme: Change and continuity in American democracy: ideas, institutions, events, key figures, and controversies
  • Era: Contemporary America (1945 to present)


Ticket to Leave Class (provided)
“What Happened in Orangeburg?” (provided)


“The Orangeburg Massacre” is a 3-day lesson toward the end of a 3-week Civil Rights unit that considers the question: What is the relationship among values, conflicts, choices and consequences? The Unit begins with a brief overview of the legal and social situation of blacks in America following the Civil War up to the Brown decision in 1954. Students then examine the Brown v. Board of Education Decision, the response of whites in the South and throughout the country, and read Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the nine students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Students also examine issues and outcomes using selected documents/photographs/and film footage of the following events: the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-In Movement, Freedom Rides, Voter Registration movements, the Selma March, and urban riots. By the time students begin the lesson about Orangeburg, they know the major players in the movement and the issues among the different Civil Rights organizations. They begin to see how the beliefs and philosophies of those involved in the movement change in the late 1960s. A worksheet entitled “What Happened in Orangeburg” and a “Ticket to Leave Class” are provided in other files.

Materials and Sources

  • Bass, Jack and Jack Nelson. The Orangeburg Massacre. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984.
    • Chapter 6: The Massacre
    • Appendix A: Statements made by the nine highway patrolmen to the FBI
    • Appendix B: From Orangeburg to Kent State
  • Curfew Imposed by Governor in Orangeburg, S.C.” The New York Times, February 10, 1968.
  • Davis, Mike. “Boycott Set in Orangeburg”. The Afro American (Philadelphia Edition), February 17, 1968.
  • One Slain, 50 Shot in Carolina”. The Atlanta Constitution, February 9, 1968.
  • Riot Brings Curfew in Carolina”. The Atlanta Constitution, February 10, 1968.
  • Ford, Wally. “Afro-Ams Aid Victims of ‘Atrocities'”. The Dartmouth, February 19, 1968.
  • Trainor, Charles. “Afro-Ams Push Towards Goal of $1750”. The Dartmouth, February 29, 1968.
  • AAS Envoy Investigates Orangeburg”. The Dartmouth, February 29, 1968.
  • Sellers, Cleveland with Robert Terrell. The River of No Return. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1990.
    • Chapter 17: The Orangeburg Massacre
    • Chapter 18: Prisonbound
  • Williams, Cecil J. Freedom & Justice. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.
    • Chapter: The Orangeburg Massacre

Goals: For students to be able to

  • continue building reading and interpreting skills with primary sources;
  • further develop the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion;
  • continue ongoing efforts in all social studies classes to analyze and evaluate historical perspective from multiple sources;
  • draw conclusions based on historical evidence about what really happened in Orangeburg and why it matters in context of the Civil Rights Movement.


Day one:

  1. Divide students into four groups. (The number of students in each group and the number of document pages depends on the overall size of the class.) Give each group one of the following sets of documents about the Orangeburg Massacre:
    • Newspaper articles
    • Statements to the FBI by the South Carolina Highway patrolmen who fired the shots
    • 2 chapters from Cleveland Seller’s autobiography about the Orangeburg Massacre
    • Photographs by photographer Cecil J. Williams & excerpts from chapter 5 and 6 of Bass and Nelson’s book.

    Give each group a “What happened in Orangeburg?” worksheet (provided).

  2. Have students in each group read their respective documents with the following question in mind: What happened in Orangeburg on February 8, 1968?Once the group is finished reading, have them discuss the above question with each other and attempt to answer it in detail on the “What happened in Orangeburg?” worksheet.
  3. Have each group discuss why the Orangeburg riot/massacre happened based on the evidence presented in their readings. The group then composes their response with supporting text evidence on their “What happened in Orangeburg?” worksheet.
  4. Finally, each group lists questions that they have on their sheet about the event in Orangeburg.

Day two:

  1. Once the groups are finished, each group explains “What happened in Orangeburg” to the class and gives their analysis of why it happened. Each group also presents their questions, and all questions are listed on the board for later discussion.
  2. Each group then photocopies their sheet of what happened and why and gives it to the other three groups. Groups then reexamine what happened given new information and points of view that are presented.
  3. Each group writes a one-page summary of what happened in Orangeburg, synthesizing the four different points of view presented. These are turned in for a group homework/in-class assignment grade.

Day three:

  1. Full class discussion of the event. As a class, we go through the context behind the Orangeburg Massacre and discuss what really happened based on all of the documents students read. Questions raised by groups are also addressed at this point.
      Issues that I anticipate arising in the discussion:
    • Who really started it? Did Sellers really incite the attack? Were there any shots fired by students?
    • Why doesn’t AAS at Dartmouth want SNCC to receive any aid?
    • Why wasn’t the situation reported correctly?
    • Why weren’t Americans outraged by this?
    • Why has the movement shifted so much?
    • Connections to Kent State, etc.

    During the last 15 minutes or so of class (depending on how long the discussion goes) I hand them a “ticket to leave” with the following question: “What does the Orangeburg Massacre tell us about the Civil Rights movement in 1968?”

Unit Content Standards

NCHS Era 7 3A: Students understand social tensions and their consequences.
NCHS Era 9 4A: Students understand the struggle for racial equality and for the extension of civil liberties.
VT Standard 6.1 Uses of Evidence and Data
VT Standard 6.3 Analyzing Knowledge
VT Standard 6.12 Human Rights


Each group turns in the following:
One “What happened in Orangeburg?” Sheet Group in-class assignment grade
One 1-page summary as explained in #7 Group in-class assignment grade
Each student turns in a “ticket to leave” in response to “What does the Orangeburg Massacre tell us about the Civil Rights movement in 1968?” upon conclusion of lesson. Individual in-class assignment grade

Grades are determined on pre-established criteria for primary source analysis.