A group of between 5000 and 7000 people converged on the local police station, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their "reference books" (identity documents). This was intended to protest the laws which required all blacks to carry reference books at all times.
69 people were killed, and over 180 injured. It is debated whether or not the police attack was provoked. The statements of Lieutenant Colonel Pienaar show that the mere gathering of blacks could have served as a provokation:
A storm of international protest followed the Sharpeville shootings, including condemnation by the United Nations. On April 1, 1960, the United Nations Security Council sat to "consider seriously the apartheid colonial oppression of the African people in South Africa" Sharpeville marked a turning point in South Africa's history; the country found itself increasingly isolated in the international community.
The Sharpeville massacre was one of the catalysts for the foundation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress.
See also: History of South Africa