Dr. Cleveland L. Sellers Jr.'73, Noted Civil Rights Activist to Deliver Commencement Address
May 3, 2013 – Shaw University will host its commencement exercise on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. at the J.S. Dorton Arena at the North Carolina Fairgrounds. Dr. Cleveland L. Sellers, Jr., President of Voorhees College and a Shaw University alumnus, will deliver the commencement address "Rebuilding the African-American Community – One Institution/One Person at a Time."
In 2008, Sellers was named the eighth president of Voorhees College, a private, historically black liberal arts college located in Denmark, South Carolina. During his presidency, Voorhees has been nationally recognized for its debate team, which made history as one of only two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) selected to participate in the first Inauguration Debate Series, part of the events celebrating the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama. Additionally, Voorhees was also recognized by South Carolina's State Commission on Higher Education as the only HBCU to receive the 2008-2009 Service Learning Award, which honors exemplary academic service learning programs of public and private four-year and two-year colleges and universities.
A native of Denmark, SC, Sellers attended Voorhees when it was still a high school and graduated in 1962. Following graduation, he became active in the civil rights movement, organizing a sit-in protest at a Denmark lunch counter and working on Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) voter registration drives in Mississippi. During this time, Sellers aligned himself with pioneers of the Movement, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Esau Jenkins and Shaw alumna Ella J. Baker, who created SNCC on Shaw's campus in 1960. He formed a special bond with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after joining King, Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick in the march across Mississippi in 1966.
Sellers is most recognized for his involvement in a protest on the campus of South Carolina State University. On February 8, 1968, approximately 200 protesters gathered on the campus to protest the segregation of a local bowling alley. A violent struggle between police and protesters left three men dead and 27 wounded, including Sellers. The incident, later known as the "Orangeburg Massacre," would result in the acquittal of the police officers involved and Sellers convicted and imprisoned on rioting charges (Sellers was the only person involved in the Massacre to be arrested and receive a prison sentence). During his seven-month imprisonment, Sellers wrote his autobiography The River of No Return which was later published in 1990. He received a full pardon 25 years after his conviction.
"Shaw University has a rich and glorious history and legacy," said Sellers. "I am proud to be a graduate of Shaw University and really thrilled and humbled by Shaw University's recognition of the veterans of civil rights and me, by honoring me. I stand here today on the shoulders of many civil rights veterans, sung and unsung, heroes and sheroes."
A prolific writer, Sellers is the author of six publications: Rebellion in Black and White. Southern Student Activism in the 1960's (2013); Preface, Camera Man's Journey (2002); Freedom is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (1996); River of No Return (1990); "Education in Our Community" The Carolina Peacemaker (1987); and "Why Historically Black Colleges Should Offer Courses in Gerontology and Geriatrics" Share (1974).
Sellers earned a master's degree in education from Harvard University and a doctorate in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His awards include the 2009 "Preserving Our Places in History" Lifetime Achievement Award from the South Carolina African-American Heritage Commission; the 2009 Freedom Flame Award from the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute; the 2009 Legacy Award from the United Negro College Fund; the 2007 Eagle Scout Award, Boy Scouts of America; and the 2003 I. DeQuincy Newman Trailblazer Award, USC Chapter of NAACP.