About the President
Prior to Voorhees, Dr. Cleveland L. Sellers Jr. served as director of the African American Studies program at the University of South Carolina, where he provided leadership and guidance to students and scholars on an array of topics including: American History, African-American History and History of the Civil Rights Movement.
Growing up in rural South Carolina, in the shadows of Voorhees College, young Cleveland Sellers had dreams that went far beyond the city limits of Denmark. As the 3-year-old mascot for the big school in his little town, Sellers had no idea he would be named president of that very same institution, more than a half century later. He went on to attend Voorhees from 9th through 12th grades; and graduated from Voorhees High School in 1962.
Sellers first became interested in the civil rights movement following the murder of Emmitt Till in 1955. He helped other students organize their first protest during the 1960’s at a Denmark, SC lunch counter in support of the Woolworth’s Sit-Ins in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Encouraged by his father, he entered Howard University in 1962, but a year later he left the confines of the university to travel the south and urge African Americans to stand up for their rights and register to vote. He also worked as an advocate for justice and human rights. Sellers aligned himself with veterans of the movement, such as Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, Fannie Lou Hamer and Esau Jenkins, by joining the student lead non-violent civil rights movement. It was during a march across Mississippi that he formed a special bond with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
February 8, 1968 is a day that will always hold a special place in his heart. On that day, the tension of segregation and fury of oppression sparked a violent mêlée on the campus of South Carolina State University between protesters and state policemen. When the dust settled from the battle three young men were dead and 27 others were wounded, one of whom was Sellers. It was this type of violence that he had worked so hard to prevent. The incident later became known as the “Orangeburg Massacre.”
The police officers, involved in the shooting, were acquitted. Sellers was the only person arrested as a result of the Orangeburg Massacre. He spent seven months behind bars on rioting charges. During those seven months, Sellers made several life-changing decisions; he decided to complete his education and fight for civil rights from the classroom by educating young people. He also decided to put his life on paper in his autobiography, The River of No Return. Twenty-five years after his sentence ended the conviction was pardoned.
Sellers earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He continued his education by earning a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. He later earned a doctorate degree in education from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. As a life-long educator, Sellers has served as speaker, presenter and panelist at numerous conferences around the country.
Sellers is the author of six publications: Preface, Cameraman 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); “Why Historically Black Colleges Should Offer Courses in Gerontology and Geriatrics” Share (1974).
Active in a wide range of organizations, Sellers is a life-long Episcopalian, a distinguished member of the Prestigious Kosmos Club, SC State Board of Education, SC African American Heritage Committee, the Organization of American Historians, and Southern Historical Association.
His awards and accolades include: 2009 Freedom Flame Award from the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute; 2009 Legacy Award from the United Negro College Fund; 2009 African American Male Image Award from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., of Columbia, SC; 2008 Instructor Emeritus, USC; 2007 Eagle Scout Award, Boy Scouts of America; 2003 Ada B. Thomas, Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, USC; 2003 Key to the City of Columbia (SC) Award; 2003 I. DeQuincy Newman Trailblazer Award, USC Chapter of NAACP; and 2003 Diamond Award, Office of Multi-cultural Student Affairs, USC.
In addition, Sellers was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law from Sewanee: The University of the South, which is located in Sewanee, Tennessee in 2009.
Sellers has three adult children: Nosizwe ́A. Sellers, M.D., Rev. Cleveland L. Sellers, III (Lumumba) and S.C. Rep. Bakari Sellers.