Shootings, burnings, threats: Cleveland Sellers recalls Civil Rights Movement

Feb 18, 2019

Author Adam Parker speaks on Feb. 6, 2019, about his book, “Outside Agitator: The Civil Rights Struggle of Cleveland Sellers Jr.” Sellers is at left. (Panther photo by Tasha Skinner)


American educator and veteran civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers spoke at South Carolina State University’s panel discussion during the 51st commemoration of the Orangeburg Massacre.

While Sellers is known as the only man to be jailed in connection with the 1968 incident in Orangeburg during which state troopers killed three students and wounded 28 others, his role in the Civil Rights Movement began before February 51 years ago.

Sellers, who was later pardoned for inciting to riot in association with the Orangeburg Massacre, said he is grateful to be alive to tell his story of growing up during the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.

“I just want to give you a picture of what it was like every night we stayed in Mississippi. Every night there would be something that would go on -- shootings, burnings, threats, etc.” he said. “That's how much decency and respect they had for African Americans.”

He began with the story of a young man being beaten. When an autopsy was performed in New York, “the doctors said that it had appeared as if he had been thrown out of an airplane because just about every bone in his body was broken,” Sellers said.

“A girl got shot 17 times just by being in her home for a short period of time,” Sellers said.

There were 54 fire bombings of churches and houses in Mississippi within three months -- and 3,500 arrests, Sellers said.

Sellers said he had to worry about safety and deal with what would happen when he went to ask somebody to take risks. At 19, he went into buildings to get more African-Americans to register to vote and join freedom riders.

The author of a biography of Sellers, retired president of Voorhees College, said he is amazed by the activist’s work during the civil rights movement. Adam’s Parker’s book is “Outside Agitator: The Civil Rights Struggle of Cleveland Sellers Jr.”

Parker cited some of Sellers’ roles:

●       He participated in every major event in the 1960s except for the freedom riders.

●       He formed a youth chapter of the NAACP in Denmark.

●       He helped organize meetings in Denmark.

●       He did the march in Washington.

  • He was in Selma for the Selma march.

●       “He was there to lead, to create the arch of this period.”



Section Navigation
Support the next generation of Claflin Leaders
Your support provides educational enrichment through student scholarships, loan funds, instructional classroom equipment, preparing Claflin's students to be leaders of the future.