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Florence preacher one of 28 shot during Orangeburg Massacre 50 years ago

Rev. Frankie Thomas, 68, was shot seven times on Feb. 8, 1968  (Credit: Tonya Brown)

Rev. Frankie Thomas, 68, was shot seven times on Feb. 8, 1968 while peacefully protesting outside South Carolina State University over the mistreatment of blacks.

It's known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

In all, 28 people were wounded and three killed when nine state troopers opened fire on the crowd.

Thomas said nothing will ever erase the painful memory of what happened on that day 50 years ago.

"I heard the gun fire. Didn't really think it was them shooting at us. The first thing that crossed my mind and probably everybody else it may have been some warning shots or blanks or even fireworks," Thomas said. "As I remember, 50 years ago tomorrow, that the first bullet that hit me hit my face. Seven teeth were shot. My tongue was dangling. And several other shots were fired at us and I remember getting hit in my right arm, across my chest, and my left leg, and bullet fragments. One of the bullets went across my chest, right above my heart."

Thomas said people were screaming in pain.

"It was screaming, boys and girls. I don't remember who was near me or what kind of shape they were in. I have no idea. My main concern was trying to survive. I remember lying on the floor. The RN, LPN, Nurse, or whoever it was, said to somebody, and they was standing over me. I remember that. 'We just gone clean him up, because there's just no way he's going to survive.'"

Thomas is thankful he made it out alive, but will never forget the three who died.

He said despite what happened, he holds no hate.

"I haven't wavered. I haven't regretted. I don't hold any animosity. I still have problems. Even though I can't do what I do physically, I have always been a civil rights activist. It grew up in me. My daddy has always taught the color of your skin doesn't matter. In your stance or where you go in life. The only thing that will stop you is you. To hate anybody, I can't do that. I did, probably a couple of years. Maybe the early 70's. God touched me and said 'Hey, I can't use you hating nobody. You got to love everybody. Because everybody is somebody.'"

Thomas plans to attend a commemoration Thursday at South Carolina State University. He said he's sure he'll shed tears and share some laughs with old friends.

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