The Johnstone Bombing and Racial Tensions

Racially-charged events which build up tension on campus before the SLBI walk-out.

In the Fall of 1968, racial tensions ran high throughout the state of South Carolina. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in early April, and the campus at SC State in Orangeburg had just experienced an outbreak of violence that had resulted in the dispatch of National Guard troops by Governor Robert McNair to regain control of the situation. With the beginning of a new school year at Clemson following these events, there were sure to be disruptive incidents that fall semester. Some of the earliest reports from that semester describe food and trash being thrown across the dining area in the since closed Harambe Dining Hall. Later in the semester, an explosive incident occurred in the nearby Johnstone dorms. Ron Berry, an African American electrical engineering major who also served as a Resident Assistant in the Johnstone dorms, was studying for an exam in his single room in Johnstone. Berry had the window to his dorm open, as the living areas in Johnstone did not yet have the luxury of air conditioning at the time. As he was sitting at his desk, Berry noticed an object fly through his window onto his bed, where it created a small yet frightening explosion. Campus police were called to investigate the incident, but had to call in the expertise of the state authorities in the form of SLED to help find the perpetrator. The would-be bomber was located, and authorities discovered enough explosive material in his vehicle to cause harm to a residence hall of approximately 2,000 students. The perpetrator, himself a student, was then found guilty by a trial by SLED, and was handed over to authorities in his home state of New Jersey to await further charges. This was just in the fall semester of the 1969 school year, and more awaited the African American students on campus.
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