Bomb Explodes at Bluefield State College

Bluefield Daily Telegraph
November 23, 1968

Campus Is Closed At BSC; Reward Is Set

Strife-torn Bluefield State College ceased operations Friday as authorities continued an intensive search for clues to the origin of a bomb which blasted through BSC's new Health and Physical Education Building Thursday evening.

In Charleston, Gov. Hulett C. Smith announced a $5,000 reward offer for information leading to the conviction of persons conspiring to destroy or injure life and property at the troubled institution.

Bluefield State President Wendell G. Hardway said the campus would be closed until further notice and all classes cancelled until after the Thanksgiving holidays.

Patrols Expanded

Hardway said campus security patrols will be expanded "to provide sufficient manpower to patrol and protect the campus 24 hours a day."

He said early estimates of the destruction in the $1.6 million structure completed in January 1967 indicate "a minimum of $80,000 damage."

Hardway said the investigation had disclosed that a night watchman, Carter Mitchell, came upon the bomb in an enclosed stairwell alongside the fourth floor of the building and was able to warn other person nearby in time to escape the blast.

Mitchell told authorities he saw a small canvas bag with a burning fuse protruding from it and that he quickly gave the alarm to two custodians, a watchman and two student employees who where in the area.

"Had it not been for the alertness and quick action of Carter Mitchell," Hardway said, "four or five members of the staff would have been killed." He added:

Force of Explosion

"It was quite obvious that the force of the explosion which hurled steel doors and shattered concrete walls could well have killed any student and staff who might have been anywhere on upper floors of the building. In fact it was apparent from the preliminary evaluations of the force of the explosion that anyone in the immediate vicinity of the building could have been killed by concussion of the explosion or the flying glass and debris."

Lloyd Davis, the campus security officer, said the force of the blast indicated a charge comparable to "six or eight sticks of dynamite," although there was no definite announcement as to what explosive was used. An FBI explosives expert was on the scene Friday. State Board of Education President W. Robert Abbott of Fayetteville and Vice President Robert E. Kamm of Summersville conferred with Hardway in Bluefield Friday along with Leslie Martin, administrator of higher education for the board.

Asked if recent violence at the college culminating in Thursdays explosion might lead to permanent closing of the school, Abbott said:

Group of Thugs

"The board has the responsibility of insuring the continued education opportunity of all students at the college. It would be a tragedy if a small group of thugs which includes probably not more than ten were able to deprive 1,400 responsible students of their right to pursue their educational programs at the college. Every possible action will be taken to guarantee that such an eventuality will not develop. The board and President Hardway will not permit the college to be a haven for hoodlums."

The board is expected to discuss the situation further at a meeting in Charleston on Monday.

State Sen. R. E. (Ray) Barnett of Bluefield said Friday he is calling for "a full investigation" of the BSC situation by the Joint Committee on Government and Finance.

Barnett said Bluefield State "has been harassed by the Human Rights Commission, the NAACP, and the governor has not taken a firm stand. The discontent on campus is caused by approximately 10 per cent of the enrollment with 90 per cent of the dissenting group being from out of the state. These students have interrupted classes, harassed the other students, instructors and the president, destroying property and degraded the college a a whole."

The campus, including the men's and women's dormitories, was closed Friday to all except those with official business to transact at the college. Hardway said a decision would be made later as to whether activities would resume after the Thanksgiving holidays end next Sunday.

Gov. Smith announced the reward offer at a news conference also attended by State Police Supt. T. A. Welty, Asst. Atty. Gen. Claude Foyce and Liaison aides of Gov. elect Arch A. Moore Jr.

In offering the reward, Smith invoked the "Red Man Act," a state conspiracy statute rarely used in recent decades. It dates back to coalfield organizing violence nearly a half-century ago.

The act applies to conspiracy to inflict bodily harm or property damage. Taking part in such a conspiracy is a misdemeanor and actual commission of an act to inflict injury or property damage is a felony.

Smith noted that if a death results from an act growing out of a conspiracy, all those participating in the conspiracy may be prosecuted for first-degree murder.

Act May Apply

Bluefield State, the governor said, "is not the only area, or instance, where this act may apply, and if it seems desirable, I shall utilize it wherever necessary."

Smith said 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 of the college."

This security system was put in effect after Smith, Welty and state Board of Education officials conferred Thursday morning, the governor said.

"Our information indicates that more than one person has been involved in this most recent disturbance," Smith said.

Bluefield Police Chief Andrew Dodson said a 24-hour investigation into the explosion and other acts of violence that have plagued Bluefield State is continuing.

Asked if there were any suspects in the bombing, Dodson said, "We've questioned some people and are presently looking for others to question."

The police chief also said all 22 officers on the city police force began working 12 hours a day seven days a week Friday. Dodson said police had been working 12 hour shifts since Nov. 14, with their regularly scheduled days off, until the explosion occurred.

He also said officers on the police force "have been very cooperative" in the work schedule since many willingly gave up part-time jobs.

24 Hours a Day

Dodson said the city presently has police officers on the BSC campus 24 hours a day in addition to the regular patrols throughout the city. He added that cars also are patrolling by homes of certain members of the Bluefield State administration and faculty on a close schedule.

State Fire Marshall Lewis Myles along with other personnel in the State Fire Marshal's office were on the BSC Campus Friday.

Bluefield City manager Howard Leist also reported Friday that he had made an urgent request to Gov. Smith for additional state police protection on Thursday, several hours before the bomb blast.

Leist's letter to the governor said:

"Dear Governor Smith:

"I am certain you are aware of the regrettable condition of student rebellion at Bluefield State College in Bluefield. This condition continues to worsen daily and law and order are rapidly deteriorating. There seems to be little that the college Administration can do.

"The Police Department of the City of Bluefield is pledged to maintain law and order and to protect life and property within its jurisdiction. Bluefiield State College is within the jurisdiction of the Police Department of the city. Effective today I have ordered all vacations and days off cancelled and have placed the men in the department on twelve hour shifts, seven days a week, in order to do what we can with our limited force to return a stable condition to the campus of the college. I am first to admit that our police force is limited and I ask you to bolster our force with State Police to insure the effectiveness of our effort.

"I also realize that returning law and order to the campus of Bluefield State by police force can only be for a limited time for numerous reasons. I implore you as the Chief Executive Officer of the State of West Virginia to act with the fortitude necessary to cause the removal of the hard core rebellious students from the midst of the student population on the campus so the police can be withdrawn. It is a deplorable situation when one hundred fifty persons with fifteen leaders among fifteen hundred students can successfully defy the college administration, and in fact the State of West Virginia."

The blast Thursday night was the latest in a series of incidents, including death threats and extensive vandalism, since a violent demonstration here last fall.

Edgar James, a student who claims to represent all 450 Negro students on campus, has demanded the removal of the college president, other administrators and filed a list of 35 "grievances."

Some say James' supporters include only a small number of militant Negroes.

There are 1,400 students enrolled in the formerly all-Negro college.


West Virginia Archives and History