Lawmakers call for probe of '68 civil rights shootings

Associated Press • May 12, 2007 at 10:36 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. - A group of state lawmakers wants a formal investigation of the fatal shooting of three civil rights protesters almost 40 years ago.

Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter, has filed a bill to open a review of the shootings - known as the Orangeburg Massacre - in which three people were killed at the predominantly black South Carolina State University in 1968.

Weeks' bill won't get very far with less than a month left on this year's legislative calendar, but it can carry over to the next session, which starts in January. In February, the state will mark the 40th anniversary of the event that Weeks says still causes "hard feelings" among some black South Carolinians.

"There are still a lot of questions - a certain mystery about what happened," he said. "We may not like what (an investigation) finds, but perhaps we can bring some closure to this."

Weeks' bill has 25 co-sponsors - only one of them white. The legislation would create a five- member commission with subpoena powers to investigate the shootings. The commission would report its findings to the governor and the General Assembly.

"I would like to know what it will accomplish," said state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Columbia and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "If it will help move South Carolina forward, I'm all for it. If it's simply going to dredge up the past and (allege) wrongdoings, then I don't see what good it's going to do."

The bill would need Harrison's support to make it through his committee.

One lawmaker working to get Harrison on board is freshman Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark. Sellers' father, Cleveland Sellers, was wounded by police in the 1968 shootings and was sentenced to a year in jail after being convicted of inciting a riot in 1970.

Cleveland Sellers was the only person convicted on charges related to the incident. He was pardoned by then-Gov. Carroll Campbell in 1993.

Nine Highway Patrol officers were charged in connection with the shootings and were acquitted in federal court. (AP) Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com AP-CS-05-12-07 1737EDT

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