Bomb Explodes at Bluefield State College

Bluefield Daily Telegraph
November 26, 1968

Three More Are Arrested In Bombing At BSC

Shannon Dwight Banks, 20, of Bluefield, a U.S. Army private home on leave, was arrested Monday night in the alleged conspiracy to bomb the physical education building at Bluefield State College.

Banks, like three other Negroes before him, was charged with conspiracy to inflict injury to persons or property and possession of explosives with criminal intent.

Banks, reportedly recently returned from Vietnam, was arrested by state and city police at his home at 606 Fairfax St. about 10 p.m. Monday and taken to the Mercer County Jail at Princeton.

State police said Monday night they were uncertain whether Banks was a former Bluefield State student. The other three arrested in the case were either present or former students.

State Police Sgt. R. A. Hall, in charge of the Princeton detachment which has been leading the investigation, declined Monday night to say whether the fourth arrest would close the case. "The investigation is continuing," he said.

Bonds totaling $125,000 were set for the first three arrested Sunday and Monday.

Nathaniel B. Johnson 21, of Crumpler, McDowell County was booked at the Mercer County Jail in Princeton at 2:45 a.m. Monday and William C. Travis, 20, of Willow Grove, Pa., was jailed at 7 a.m.

The same charges were filed Sunday night against Edgar James, 26, of Bedford Street, the first of the trio to be arrested.

Bonds Set

Princeton Justice of the Peace J. E. Belcher set $25,000 bond for James, and Welch Justice of the Peace Archie Day set bond of $25,000 on each count against Travis and Johnson, making their bonds total $50,000 each. Blanks' bond was set at $25,000 by Belcher late Monday.

All four were expected to receive a preliminary hearing before Belcher in Princeton Wednesday to determine whether the evidence warrants holding them for action by the Mercer County grant jury.

James a 26 year old self-proclaimed leader of some 450 Negro students at BSC, was arrested in Bluefield about 9 p.m. Sunday. The other two were picked up in McDowell County by Sgt. Hall and Trooper C. W. Slater.

Observes Teachers

James is employed by the N&W Railway as a brakeman and is an education major at Bluefield State. He had recently begun a student teaching assignment at Richlands High School, but Richlands Principal Thomas W. Hagy said he had not actually taught classes. "He was still in the process of observing our instructors." Hagy said.

State police identified Johnson as a present Bluefield State student and Travis as a former student who was suspended last fall but reportedly was still living in the BSC men's dormitory, "at least for the past month."

Jail sources said Willard Brown a Charleston lawyer prominent in several NAACP cases, visited James at the jail Monday for "10 or 15 minutes."

The arrests occurred during an intensive investigation by state and Bluefield city police which apparently is continuing unabated. Sgt. R. M. Hall, in charge of the Princeton state police detachment, asked if more arrests are expected, would say only that the investigation "is not completed."

Likely To Be More

In Charleston meanwhile, State Police Lt. Col. W. L. Pike said he couldn't say how many more arrests would be made, but added: "Most likely there will be more."

Also in Charleston, the State Board of Education said the strife-ridden college would reopen Dec. 2, after the Thanksgiving holidays, but that the men's and women's dormitories would remain closed.

BSC President Wendell G. Hardway said following the meeting that the dormitory closing action was taken because "we cannot guarantee security at night for students living in the dormitories under present conditions. The safety of the students is the primary factory involved in this recommendation."

He said the male dormitory normally accommodates 110 students and at the time of the bombing housed about 90. The girls dorm was built to hold 120 and was occupied by about 60 female students, he said.

Hardway told the Board of Education he understood many of the dormitory occupants already had decided to move following the Thursday bombing of the Health and Physical Education Building.

Find Housing

The board said in a statement that Hardway had assured it that every effort would be made to help students find housing in the Bluefield area. It said it decided to close the dormitories because the board "feels its primary responsibility is to insure the safety of the students..." It noted that no more than 150 students, or about 10 per cent of the BSC enrollment, would be affected by the closings.

It said a number of students also had stated that they were now afraid to live on the campus in view of the Thursday bombing.

Hardway scaled down the bomb damage estimate from the original $80,000 to "between $50,000 and $80,000."

The explosive, still unidentified publicly by police, tore a huge hole in the new $1.6 million structure and caused extensive damage to its third and forth floors. A night watchman who saw the bomb in a canvas bag, with a burning fuse protruding from it, was credited with saving the lives of at least four persons in the immediate area.

Certain Death

Hardway told the Board of Education in Charleston Monday that it would have been almost certain death for all four if the watchman, Carter Mitchell, had not given the alarm.

The conspiracy charge under which the students are being held would permit prosecution for first degree murder of all involved in such a conspiracy charge under which the students are being held would permit prosecution for first degree murder of all involved in such a conspiracy if a death had resulted from it. Gov. Hu8lett C. Smith pointed out Friday.

The board - with on dissenting vote - also expressed support of the "excellent manner" in which Hardway and his staff have been administering the college.

Dissenting was Dr. S. G. Baskerville, a Charleston dentist and the board's only Negro.

"I can't in good conscience vote for it," Baskersville said of the motion.

Other Colleges

Baskersville said other colleges administered by the board have not experienced "unrest" like that at Bluefield and there is a question in my mind whether the college is being administered properly."

Two closed door sessions lasting some four hours took up most of the board's one-day meeting. Appearing before the board were Hardway, Bluefield business manager Ed Grose and state police Supt. T.A. Welty.

Hardway told the board repair of the bomb damage would cost between $50,000 and $80,000 but that insurance would cover all but $25,000. He also said windows in other buildings, broken in previous incidents, would cost about $6,000 to replace.

He said the college could not pay the uninsured $25,000 but, at Hardway's request, the board asked Gov. Smith to allocate $25,000 from his contingency fund.

Chamber Letter

Meanwhile on Monday the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce made public a letter it sent to Gov. Smith Friday following the bombing. The letter, signed by Chamber President M. T. Meachum said.

"The Board of Directors of the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, in a special meeting concerning the bombing and outages which have taken place in recent days at Bluefield State College, calls upon you as the Governor of West Virginia to take whatever steps are necessary to restore law and order, protect the lives, limbs, and property of our citizens and permit those seeking an education in pursue it in a safe and peaceful atmosphere.

This group, made up of the business community, takes pride in the services rendered and the educational advantages offered through the years by Bluefield State College: and supports wholly the courageous effort of Dr. Wendell Hardway and the City of Bluefield, with virtually no help from other persons or agencies to deal with this deplorable situation. Obviously, the requested help is desperately needed. Moreover, this group requests an early appointment with you so a committee of its members may come to Charleston and discuss these and related matters.

"An early reply is respectfully requested.

The chamber said it had received no reply from the governor.


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