Bomb Explodes at Bluefield State College

State Papers and Public Addresses of Hulett C. Smith

Statement by the Governor

November 22, 1968

I have been deeply disturbed over the turn of events on the campus of Bluefield State College - events which climaxed last night with a criminal and irresponsible act that could have very easily taken the lives of at least nine persons who were in close proximity to the college gymnasium when a bomb exploded.

The Department of Public Safety, of course, is conducting a thorough investigation into this matter, and is making every effort, under the direction of Colonel Welty, to obtain full information relating to the explosion.

The control of State schools and colleges, as you know, does not rest with the Governor's Office under our constitution. Nonetheless, we do have, and intend to exercise, our responsibility to apprehend those responsible for this most recent, dangerous act. We shall enforce the law.

The State of West Virginia, therefore, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons conspiring to destroy or injure life or property on the Bluefield State College campus and its environs.

I am taking this action under provisions of West Virginia's "Red Man Act," which authorizes the Governor to offer rewards and to employ any and all means in his power to secure the apprehension of any and all persons participating in an "unlawful combination," or who shall be charged with the commission of any offense mentioned in the act.

The act specifically refers to a conspiracy for the purpose of inflicting any punishment or bodily injury upon any person or persons, or for the purpose of destroying, injuring, defacing or taking and carrying away any property not their own. Any one participating in any conspiracy to carry out such acts, whether he actually commits the act or not, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. And any person convicted of participating in the act itself shall be guilty of a felony. This is not the only area, or instance, where this act may apply, and if it seems desirable, I shall utilize it, wherever necessary.

There is no doubt in my mind that last night's incident comes within the provisions of this act. Our information indicates that more than one person has been involved in this most recent disturbance.

The State Board of Education, of course, has the responsibility of supervising the operation of the college, and is meeting its responsibilities. I conferred with Board officials earlier this afternoon. The responsibility we have, and which we fully accept, is to do everything possible to apprehend those responsible for the explosion and other acts of violence, and to make certain it does not happen again. I understand that members of the Board of Education are in Bluefield at this time, meeting with officials of Bluefield State.

By way of background, let me point out that at the time of the explosion, security on the campus was being maintained by at least two State Policemen, two Bluefield City policemen, and six privately- employed guards. This security system was placed in effect after a meeting I had yesterday morning with Colonel Welty, and after officials of the State Board of Education and Colonel Welty had agreed to additional security measures.

As soon as the first tip arrived that there might be a bomb planted on the campus, the City and State Policemen initiated a search of the campus. They had just completed a search of the Administration Building, and were heading for the gymnasium to conduct a search there, when the explosion occurred. They narrowly escaped death, or serious injury.

There were five persons in the gymnasium moments before the explosion - a watchman, two janitors, and two student workers. One of these persons saw the bomb fizzling and evacuated the building immediately, also narrowly escaping death.

Had it not been for the curtailed activities necessitated by the situation on the campus, even a larger number of people would have been in the building at the time of the explosion.

The Department of Public Safety is following all leads, and will follow this investigation through to its inevitable conclusion.

Classes at the college have been suspended today, while the investigation is continuing.

We hope the offer of this $5,000 reward will bring forth some additional information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Colonel Welty and Attorney General Robertson are present, and all of us will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

December 7, 1968


The Honorable Hulett C. Smith
Governor of the State of West Virginia
Governor's Mansion
Charleston, West Virginia

Dear Governor Smith:

Please be assured of the gratitude and pleasure of the Mercer County Council on Human Relations at your gracious and generous reception of our representatives, Mr. David Kee and the Reverend William Galbreath, on Friday, December 6.

As those gentlemen stated, there is a growing concern here that agencies of the government be sensitive to the needs of the people to participate in decisions affecting their lives. There has been for some time a feeling on the part of many people here, and especially black people, that government has not been aware of, nor responsive to, their legitimate needs and desires. Certainly much of the difficulty at Bluefield State College reflects this situation.

There was little mutual confidence between the present college administration and a large part of the student body to begin with, and the response of the college administration to student demonstrators has been no more productive of a will to cooperate among students than the increasing militance of students has produced a feeling of charity in the college administration.

Something must happen to break this log-jam in human relations else repression and/or violence will only increase, to the detriment of the college, the Bluefield community and eventually, of course, to the harm of the whole state.

You have received a number of requests for the release of the Human Rights Commission Report. Our primary concern here is to have facts and feelings publicly aired in a manner and to an extent which has not happened in the news media. If you feel that the Human Rights Commission Report is not an appropriate vehicle to satisfy this concern, then we most strongly urge you to find some other means to make public an account of the general situation and of specific, pertinent events surrounding the recent history of Bluefield State College. If there is nothing untoward in this situation surely the college administration and State Board of Education will not object to the release of information from an impartial investigation. If there are wrongful or even dubious conditions present, their publication will enable student leaders to negotiate in the confidence, not only that they know what is true, but that the public knows it as well.

A second action needful now is the opening of the dormitories at the college. We urge you to urge most strongly that the State Board of Education request President Hardway to announce, before the students leave for Christmas vacation, that the dormitories will be open upon their return.

It also needs to be acknowledged that a number of promises, hints, offers, etc., have been received by students and community leaders as well, which have often not been carried out. Hence clear action from your office and from the Board of Education is needed now. Nothing less will allay the doubts nor decrease the lack of confidence in justice which is present in many here.

We are pleased that you showed our representatives an awareness of and sympathy for our concerns. We rejoice that you indicated to them that you were, in fact, to bring about constructive action on the part of the State Board of Education.

We want you to be assured that there are citizens in Bluefield, not only students but professional and business people, who desire to support truly constructive steps, steps which do not result in oppression nor vilification of part of the community but which make possible a truly fine and progressive college and community.

In hope and confidence we support your efforts to see that such constructive steps are taken.

Again we thank you and remain,


The Mercer County Council on Human Relations
The Rev. W. G. Galbreath

December 8, 1968


The Reverend William G. Galbreath, President
Mercer County Council on Human Relations
106 Burgess Street
Princeton, West Virginia 24740

Dear Reverend Galbreath:

I appreciate your letter. Also, I enjoyed the opportunity of talking with you during our "Government-to-the People" program in Beckley last Friday.

As I pointed out in Beckley, we've been very much aware of the problems surrounding the Bluefield situation. In fact, these problems have been matters of concern of my office prior to the time of the Human Rights Commission report of December, 1967, and certainly since the time that report was made.

In the hopes that my action will help resolve this situation, and in view of the circumstances now evident in Bluefield (as outlined by you and others with whom I have talked), I am today authorizing the Chairman of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission to release in its entirety the report that was made to me last December.

Also, I am urging the State Board of Education to give serious consideration to reopening the dormitories on the Bluefield State College campus, provided that the situation there would now warrant such action.

It is my hope that this action will be instrumental in easing the tension in Bluefield, in putting the college back on the basis of a full-scale educational endeavor, and in prompting all community leaders in West Virginia to work for the best relations possible among all citizens of the communities in our state,

With kindest personal regards,



December 9, 1968


Dr. Leslie L. Martin
Administrator of Higher Education
and Secretary to the Board
State Board of Education
410 Greenbrier Street
Charleston, West Virginia 25311

Dear Dr. Martin:

I write this letter with the hope that the State Board of Education will be able to find the ways and means to reopen the dormitories at Bluefield State College as soon as practical.

Tensions on the campus seem to have subsided considerably since the arrest of several persons believed involved in recent incidents there.

It is my hope that the situation is now, or soon will be, resolved to the point that you will be able to reopen the dormitories and put the school back into full-scale operation as soon as possible.

I know the members of the Board will give this situation their continuing attention, as they have in the past.

With kindest regards,




West Virginia Archives and History