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By Phil Hall | September 22, 2009

Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson directed this remarkable documentary on the long-forgotten February 1968 racial tensions in Orangeburg, South Carolina, that culminated in three black students being killed and 28 injured by National Guard and state police officers at the campus of South Carolina State University.

The problems began in an effort by black college students to desegregate a local bowling alley. A confrontation with the violent local police sparked vandalism by the students of the Orangeburg business district. The National Guard and state police were quickly dispatched to the historically black university, and the law enforcement encampment at the campus opened fire under the claim that they were being shot at.

A subsequent FBI report found no credibility to the claim of the students possessing guns (all of the dead and injured were shot in the back or side), and a trial of nine officers ended in a rapid acquittal by an all-white jury. Cleveland Sellers, a young black political activist, was convicted and jailed for inciting the riot at the bowling alley (he was pardoned decades later).

The film interviews the survivors of the attack, along with several law enforcement officers and former Governor Robert McNair. “Scarred Justice” makes it clear that the violence at Orangeburg has never received the level of attention accorded to other landmark events in the civil rights movement or the campus uprisings of that era. The film does a marvelous job of filling that historic void, and anyone with a strong interest in African American history – or history, period – should seek out this excellent documentary.

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