Activist & Organizer
Cleveland Sellers was born November 8, 1944, in Denmark, South Carolina, and attended Voorhees College for high school, which is where his activism began. Sellers entered Howard University in 1963 and joined the Nonviolent Action Group (NAP), an affiliate of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). After working on voting registration drives in Mississippi, at the Freedom Schools, and with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Sellers was elected as SNCC’s program secretary in 1965. Sellers worked closely with Stokely Carmichael, chairman of SNCC, and was a key figure in moving the organization to advocate for Black political power. In February 1968, the Orangeburg Massacre changed Sellers’ life. Sellers was protesting alongside more than 100 students at South Carolina State campus when nine State Highway patrolmen opened fire killing Samuel Hammond Jr., Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith, and wounding Sellers and 27 others. This was the first deadly confrontation between university students and law enforcement in U.S. history. Sellers was later convicted of inciting the protests and served 17 months in prison before being released. Sellers went on to earn a Master’s in Education from Harvard University and later his Ed.D. in History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He served as director of African American Studies at the University of South Carolina and in 2008 was selected as president of Voorhees College. He retired from this position in 2016.
In 1993 the South Carolina state government pardoned Sellers and in 2001 South Carolina governor, Jim Hodges apologized to Cleveland Sellers on behalf of the state. An official state investigation of what occurred in Orangeburg has still not been issued.