By Kenneth Jeffers
February 8 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Orangeburg massacre, the shooting of protesters by highway patrol officers on the campus of South Carolina State University. About 200 protesters had previously demonstrated against racial segregation at a local bowling alley.
Trinidad-born Kenneth Jeffers, retired manager of the City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division, was on an athletics scholarship at South Carolina State University at the time of the shooting.
Just after the shooting, Jeffers took part in a 40-mile run with fellow university students from Orangeburg to Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina.
In the following brief excerpt from his yet unpublished biography, Jeffers recalls his ” life-changing ” run 50-years ago:
I never ran 40 miles in my life before. With so many miles ahead, I had a lot of time to ponder the lay of the land in this part of the rural South and to reflect on what I was doing in Jim Crow country. Athletes will tell you that talking consumes your energy. So I remained silent – silent but deep in thought.
I thought a lot of what appeared to be the “normal and acceptable” separation of races in an apartheid system – the way of life for so many in the South, including fellow students on campus. Here in South Carolina, conversations about the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were seldom about the fact that it was a criminal organization that was allowed to function as an integral part of Southern culture and that its members hanged Black men and women. And why? For the sheer thrill of it.
Today I am still blown away by the fact that the KKK murdered over 15 ,000 Black men and women by cutting off their genitals and that members of this terrorist organization fought among themselves to get their prized souvenirs so they could display them in jars in their barbershops. These well documented facts are never taught in the education system in the South so that all could understand the extreme hate that goes unchecked or unchallenged.
On the run I remembered seeing churches whose congregations were separated by race because, for many white Southerners, Almighty God is white and Almighty God has “justified” their supremacy through Jesus Christ. Then and now, I am mystified by the significance of using a burning cross, the symbol of sacrifice, humility and love for all people, and turning it into a symbol of murder and desecration of human beings of African descent.
It was a life-changing run which strengthened my resolve to fight for justice and human rights wherever on God’s earth I found myself.