Ten years ago, Harry Floyd slammed the door of his segregated All Star Family Fun Center and Bowling Alley in the face of a young black student named John Stroman and sparked a series of demonstrations here that ended with the gunning down of three black students by white state troopers.
This month, on the 10th anniversary of what came to be called "the Orangeburg massacre." Stroman stood in the same alley and sent his last ball spinning into the strike he needed for his lifetime highest score. A broad smile spread across Stroman's face as he called out the 279 total.
"OI' Harry Floyd is all right." Stroman said later. "He has changed his whole views, you know."
Shoehorned into a tiny shopping center two blocks from this dusty southern farming town's Confederate War memorial, Floyd's Fun Center is decked with autographed photos of aging professional bowlers who pass through on tours. It also now sports blinking electronic games to appeal to a younger generation. It is, in short a totally incongruous symbol of racial reconciliation for a newer South.
But in the decade that has passed since that spasm of violence struck Orangeburg and fed the town's name into what then seemed to be an endlessly expanding roster of racial bloodshed and social protest in America, midway between Selma and Kent State, a wave of change has swept across the South and pulled Orangeburg, the bowling alley, Stroman and Floyd with it.
One of the results of that change would not have been easily predictable for outsiders, but does not shock southerners who know their irony-laced racial history. Stroman, the nominal black victor in the struggle over integrating the alley, has reaped bitter fruits from his labors, while Floyd the white "loser," is reaping profits.
There are broader ironies in this story about Orangeburg, which intends only to offer glimpses into the passage through the civil rights era by some of the key participants in the 1968 struggle here. It is a passage that has not been uniformly smoth, and which is still far from complete, but which nonetheless mirrors remarkable change in a short time.
A new generation of black students has come to the campus of South Carolina State College, where the killings actually occurred. They continue to honor the fallen students as martyrs, but for many of them change has been so drastic that the original cause of the protests seems distant and hard to understand.
"That just would not happen today," said Kathy Edwards, vice president of the college's student government, who was 11 at the time of the shootings. "People of my generation would just ignore such a bowling alley. Too many things are open to blacks now to worry about the ignorance of one individual."
As the campus marked the anniversary with a memorial service, a group of black and white teen-agers casually sat around the same table at a local Burger King and swapped complaints about the teachers in their fully integrated high school.
For an older generation of black educators, "Orangeburg" added greatly to the ambivalence already present in their positions, which required finely honed survival tactics in navigating between enraged black student bodies and suspicious white power establishments that held the purse strings. For them, the horror and the direct threat that the turmoil represented for their hard-won positions is still too fresh.
"I go to educational meetings and there will always be someone there who says, 'South Carolina State -- oh yes, that's where those students were shot.' It is tragic they do not know that South Carolina State is much more," said Maceo Nance, acting president of the campus at the time of the killings and full president today.
Integration has brought Nance a budding business career as well as confirmation as head of the college. But integration has also cut down many of the black teachers and professionals in the state educational system, a result that not only saddens Nance but also in his view presents a threat for the future of the South.
The man who started the confrontation. John Stroman, is now 35, a teacher at a junior high school in a small town 30 miles from Orangeburg, and deeply disillusioned. He describes himself as a burned-out case and suggests that many of those who provided the first sparks of rebellion in civil rights challenges wound up as much misfits in today's social environment as they did in the old, static one they attacked.
He has more praise today for his former nemesis, Harry Floyd, than for most leaders in the black establishment. "OI' Harry will cash a check for me most times. That's more than a lot of them black folks who thinks I'm a troublemaker will do," Stroman said. "Well, I was a troublemaker in my day, but they was the ones that benefit from it. And I got nothing to show."
Stroman is also bitter that the school immediately constructed a new administration building at the edge of the campus on the site of the killings.
"That ground is sacred," he said. "At Kent State, there has been a movement to keep them from obliterating their history with that gymnasium. Here, people in charge just wanted to get on with business. They would have named the new gymnasium here for a white politician who got funds for the school if we hadn't protested and embarrassed them into naming it for the three students whose blood was shed for all of us."
Stroman was no stranger to trouble when he decided to "bust" Floyd's bowling alley in 1968, against the advice of older and more established civil rights workers who said the Fun Center was not worth the trouble of demonstrations. A year before Stroman had helped organize protests against the campus administration at S.C. State and had been suspended from school briefly.
"When I came back to campus and told people how the Floyds had insulted all of us as blacks, people just knew they had to do something then, and not wait. They had been hearing all this civil rights stuff and voting act and not seeing their lives change. So we all went down there."
Two nights of protests triggered a decision by then Gov. Robert E. McNair, who was hoping to be selected as Hubert H. Humphrey's running mate on the 1968 Democratic presidential ticket, to make a show of force. McNair ordered the National Guard and state troopers in to contain the demonstrations; instead, tensions mounted.
Stroman asserts that a severe beating at the hands of a policeman on the second night of demonstrations is the cause of epileptic seizures he continues to have. The following night, a group of state troopers opened fire on the stone-throwing demonstrators, killing the three youths.
"I can't get a job in this town," Stroman said. "Everybody still says, oh yea, he's the boy who broke Floyd's window with a brick. I didn't do that, but that damn brick will follow me around the rest of my life here. The college won't give me any kind of work, so I have to drive 60 miles a day to teach in another town."
Ten years ago, Harry Floyd told the NAACP that he could not integrate his alley and survive financially because white customers would stop coming. Now, Floyd and other former segregationists are finding that good race relations make for good business. Increasingly, his alley is depending on its 30 percent black clientele for profits.
"Never had a bit of trouble since that one time," the lank, taciturn Floyd recalled in a separate talk. "Not one black has come along and made a smart remark or anything. No trouble from the whites, either."
Business "was off for about a year but that wasn't racial," he continued. "That was like what happens if there is a shoot-out up there at the Thunderbird Motel. You know, you just decide you don't need to go around there for a while. But things are fine now. Everybody knows this town always had good race relations. That one time was just stirred up by a few outsiders."
Floyd's experience of finding that integration did not hamper profits is not unusual in the economically active Sun Belt region, and that factor is spurring changes of its own.
"In the 1960s, we did it [integration] because we had to," said W. W. (Hootie) Johnson, head of South Carolina National Bank, one of the state's financial giants. "Today, we are doing it because it is right, and because it is good for business. Those are the two reasons I'm naming the first black to our board of directors in April. The time has come."
The man Johnson has invited to join the board happens to be Maceo Nance, president of S.C. State, a job that is the top rung in this state for a black educator.
It has been a decade of expansion for the college, with the annual operating budget doubling to $8 million, and enrollment now standing at 3,900 (6 percent of its white). The administration building and the gymnasium named for the slain students are only part of the $17 million worth of new buildings the state legislature, which now has a sprinkling of black representatives, has approved for a school that was treated like an unwanted stepchild during the segregation era.
But during that progress, Nance has continued to be locked in a situation that former student Stroman describes as being akin to that in Ralph Ellison's powerful novel, "The Invisible Man," in which a black college president has to protect his campus both from black militancy and from the white power structure that could close it down instantly. After performing both tasks with skill for a decade, Nance concedes that doubts linger about the role his generation has been forced to play.
"A war never really affects an individual or a community until one of its children is killed," Nance said after showing initial reluctance to discuss the 1968 violence and its aftermath. "We were affected. But at some time you also have to look at what your efforts achieve.
"We used the students in a period of social action and civil rights," Nance continued, seeming to echo some of Stroman's emotion. "Now we have to wonder if we assumed a maturity existed in young people that wasn't in fact there. Did we assume a fairness in the dominant society which doesn't manifest itself yet? In return, we have lost the seriousness of purpose as it relates to school that we once had, partly in the name of social change. Our performance in our high schools is going down, not up."
After nothing that integration of previously all white and black school systems has led to a continuing reduction in the number of black "teachers, principals and coaches who could serve as role models" for black children; Nance asked:
"What does it tell a young black person when he looks at the 33 state supported colleges and technical schools after a decade of great change and still sees that only two are headed by blacks? I don't mean to be critical, but what does that tell him about his chances to succeed?"
Nance paused, as if realizing that he had not been masking his feelings for a brief moment, and began listening again to his words before he spoke them.
"When it happened, I said that it would never have happened if this had been a white campus. But it did, two years later, at Kent State Society does not seem to learn the lessons of its own tragedies."