The author of a biography of former Voorhees College President Dr. Cleveland Sellers says he was amazed by the activist’s work during the civil rights movement.
“He was there to lead, to create the arch of this heroic era of the civil rights era in the 1960s, the period of student engagement,” Adam Parker said.
Parker’s book is, “Outside Agitator: The Civil Rights Struggle of Cleveland Sellers Jr.” Sellers and Parker held a panel discussion and reception at South Carolina State University on Wednesday afternoon.
Sellers, a native of Denmark, was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in Orangeburg, Denmark and across the nation during the 1960s.
Parker shared several examples of Sellers’ involvement, noting that he was “very involved in the March on Washington.”
Sellers also went to Cambridge, Maryland in 1963 and Selma, Alabama for the Selma March.
Parker said the book also details Sellers’ work as an assistant director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s efforts in Mississippi.
“This man was at the forefront of it all. So, in the book, when you read it, you’ll see that I mention in a few places how Dr. Sellers was sort of the educator, the administrator, the logistics guy who was keeping track of the fleet of cars that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee operated,” Parker said.
“He was organizing the travel schedule. He was following Stokely Carmichael on the speaking circuit,” Parker stated.
Parker stated that it was not farfetched to place Sellers in the realm of well-known and respected civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“He is among this top tier of civil rights leaders,” Parker said.
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Sellers spoke on his time in 1964 while he was stationed in Mississippi. He was tasked with coordinating Freedom Schools and voter registration, among other duties.
Sellers stated that his role as an organizer shifted his worries.
When he was on the front line of the protests and demonstrations, he had to worry about his personal safety. As an organizer, Sellers said he would often worry about the safety and well-being those involved in demonstrations.
Sellers recalled the many deaths that occurred while he was in Mississippi.
“Nobody but God alone knows how many black men are in the rivers in Mississippi,” he said.
Sellers also called for action and justice in the Orangeburg Massacre, which occurred on Feb. 8, 1968.
On that night, South Carolina State College students Henry Smith and Samuel Hammond, along with 19-year-old Wilkinson High School student Delano Middleton, were killed and 28 others were injured when S.C. Highway Patrol troopers opened fire on a crowd of protesters following three nights of escalating racial tension over efforts to desegregate the All-Star Triangle Bowl.
Sellers was wounded in the incident. He was the only person ever convicted of a crime in connection with it, although he was later pardoned.
Sellers said, “When I came back to South Carolina in 1990, it became obvious to me that you could not talk about racism in this country.”
“Now we have Orangeburg and we still can’t talk race because the state of South Carolina has done absolutely nothing in trying to bring reconciliation and heal all of those people who were injured,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of students that were here during that time, and they’re just like me, suffering from PTSD.
“We need to move it to the next level and we need to be able to talk about how we are going to handle that discussion.”