|Cleveland Sellers, Jr.|
November 8, 1944|
Denmark, South Carolina, USA
|African-American Civil Rights Movement|
Cleveland Sellers, Jr. was born in 1944 in Denmark, South Carolina to Cleveland and Pauline Sellers. As a young man, he was known for his involvement in the African-American Civil Rights Movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was the only person convicted and jailed for events at the Orangeburg Massacre, a 1968 civil rights protest in which three students were killed by state troopers. Sellers' conviction and the acquittal of the other nine defendants was believed to be motivated by racism, and Sellers received a full pardon 25 years after the incident.
In 1960, in response to the Greensboro sit-ins, Sellers organized a sit-in protest at a Denmark, South Carolina lunch counter. At age 15, he was active for the first time with the Civil Rights movement. During his boyhood, Sellers joined the Boy Scouts of America and attended the 1960 National Scout jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although Sellers completed the requirements necessary to become an Eagle Scout, "his paperwork was lost" and he was not formally recognized with the honor until December 3, 2007 at 64 years of age, more than four decades after it was earned. Sellers was presented with a historically correct Eagle Scout medal that would have been awarded in the 1960s at a special Eagle Scout Court of Honor at the 2010 Centennial National Scout Jamboree.
Civil rights activism
In 1962 Sellers enrolled in Howard University. After the 1960 protest,he and Sellers' father had forbidden his son's jeopardizing himself by becoming an activist. However, during his sophomore year, Sellers became involved with SNCC. He worked on voter registration drives in Mississippi, and was the director of the Holly Springs COFO office during Mississippi Freedom Summer. A significant amount of material on this period may be found in the Mississippi Digital Library. In 1965 he became the program director of SNCC. In the summer of 1966, when Sellers heard of the attempted murder of James Meredith, he joined other civil rights campaigners, including SCLC's Martin Luther King, SNCC's Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick in the march across Mississippi.
After the march, Sellers was with Carmichael when the term “black power” was first used. He was also one of the first members of SNCC to refuse to be drafted into the U.S. military as a protest against the Vietnam War. The leadership of SNCC thought that the Johnson Administration was trying to silence SNCC by drafting its leadership. Sellers graduated from Howard in 1967. After graduation, he returned to South Carolina.
The main article for this section is Orangeburg Massacre.
On February 8, 1968, approximately 200 protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University (in the city of Orangeburg) to protest the segregation of the All Star Bowling Lane. Now called All-Star Triangle Bowl, it was a bowling alley on Russell Street, owned by local businessman Harry K. Floyd. Police officers panicked when they thought they were being attacked (so they claimed) and fired into the crowd, killing three young men: Samuel Hammond, all-state basketball player Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith, and wounding 27 others.
The ensuing trial, billed as the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest, led to the acquittal of all nine defendants. Sellers was the only individual imprisoned as a result of the incident. He served seven months in prison after a conviction for inciting to riot.
During his imprisonment he wrote his autobiography, The River of No Return, chronicling his involvement with the civil rights movement. Sellers received a full pardon 25 years after his conviction, but he chose not to have his record expunged, keeping it as a "badge of honor."
After his release from prison, Sellers earned a Master's degree in education from Harvard University in 1970. He ran unsuccessfully for office in Greensboro, North Carolina while aiding the 1984 presidential campaign of Reverend Jesse Jackson. Sellers earned his Ed.D. in History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1987.
He served as Director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. His scholarly interests include recording the history of protest tradition, civil rights history, and the experiences of Africans in the Diaspora. He focuses on the oral history of African Americans who shaped the history of South Carolina, including cultural groupings and the languages of Gullah, Creole, and Ghegee. He also has studied the survival experiences of African Americans, sometimes recorded in folklore but often unrecorded.
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Sellers has two sons and a daughter.
His youngest son is South Carolina state Rep. Bakari T. Sellers. At age 22 (DOB September 18, 1984), B.T. Sellers was one of the youngest state lawmakers in the United States when he was first elected in November 2006.
- God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, Charles Marsh, Princeton University Press
- Orangeburg figure Sellers will lead Voorhees College
- Sellers, Cleveland (1944- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed
- Goggins, Katrina A. (November 2007). "Ex-Black Militant Becomes Eagle Scout". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2007-11-27. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
- "Cleveland Sellers, 64, Earns Eagle Scout Award". National Public Radio. December 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
- "Civil Rights Activist Cleveland Sellers to Deliver Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation". Depauw University. 1999. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
- American Experience | Eyes on the Prize | Profiles | PBS
- The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson. 248 pages. Mercer University Press. Second Edition 2003. ISBN 0-86554-552-9.
- Cleveland Sellers, The River of No Return (New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1973)
- Article by Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak April 26, 2007
- University of South Carolina - Spotlight: Students
- Cleveland Sellers faculty page
- Civil Rights Greensboro: Cleveland Sellers
- Brian Cabell: Remembering the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre February 8, 2001 Web posted at: 4:02 p.m. EST (2102 GMT). Accessed April 1, 2005.
- Jack Bass, "Documenting the Orangeburg Massacre", [Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard]. Harvard University. Fall 2003. Accessed April 1, 2005.
- The Orangeburg Massacre, About.com. Accessed April 1, 2005.
- Linda Meggett Brown, "Remembering the Orangeburg Massacre", Black Issues in Higher Education, March 1, 2001. Accessed April 1, 2005.
- "A Guardian reporter visits the All-Star Triangle Bowl", The Guardian
- Democracy Now! Interview with Cleveland Sellers in 2008, Democracy Now
- Picture of Cleveland Sellers 1965 at burned Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Blue Mountain Mississippi
- Voorhees: About the President