About the President
Growing up in the shadows of Voorhees College, Dr. Cleveland L. Sellers Jr. dreamed dreams that went far beyond rural Denmark, S.C. Little did he know that life's journey would take him to protest marches to jail and to the Ivy League before bringing him back to the place he was born.
Dr. Seller's connection to Voorhees began when he was 3 and served as its mascot. He attended Voorhees from ninth through 12th grades, graduating in 1962. The school came of age as he did; that same year Voorhees was accredited as a four-year college.
Events of that era shaped the leader Sellers was destined to become. He became interested in the civil rights movement in 1955, the year 14-year-old Emmitt Till was brutally beaten and murdered in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a white woman. Sellers became active during the 1960s, helping organize a student protest at a Denmark lunch counter in support of the Woolworth’s sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C.
Encouraged by his father, he entered Howard University in Washington, D.C. He left a year later 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 civil rights movement - Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, Fannie Lou Hamer and Esau Jenkins. During a march across Mississippi, he formed a special bond with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The day that truly changed Sellers' life, though, was Feb. 8, 1968. On that day, the tension of segregation and fury of oppression sparked violence between protesters and state police on the South Carolina State University campus. Three young men died and 27 were wounded, one of whom was Sellers. It was this type of violence 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 – 25 years after he was released, he received an official pardon.
During those seven months, Sellers made life-changing decisions: He would complete his education and move his civil rights battle to the classroom by educating young people.
From there, Sellers completed his bachelor's degree at Shaw University. He then earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and a doctorate in education from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. As a life-long educator, Sellers has served as a speaker, presenter and panelist at numerous conferences around the country.
Before becoming president at Voorhees, Sellers was director of the African-American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. He also taught in the Department of History and the African-American Studies Program. He is a former member of the South Carolina State Board of Education, Second Judicial District.
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). He has worked as a historian and consultant for several documentaries, including ESPN’s “Black Magic,” Tom Brokaw’s “1968,” College of Charleston’s Emmy award-winning, “Where Do We Go From Here,” and Blackside Production’s classic, “Eyes on the Prize.”
A life-long Episcopalian, Sellers is a warden at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Denmark and he's served on the board of the Episcopal Church Foundation. He's also president of the Denmark Recreation Center Inc. Other affiliations include the. African American Heritage Committee, the Organization of American Historians and Southern Historical Association. He's also a member of the Kosmos Club, Columbia's oldest dinner-discussion club.
His awards and accolades include; 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 (S.C.) Award; 2003 I. DeQuincy Newman Trailblazer Award, USC Chapter of NAACP; 2003 Diamond Award, Office of Multi-cultural Student Affairs, USC.
Sellers and his wife Gwendolyn and have three children : Dr. Nosizwe A. Sellers, M.D.; The Rev. Cleveland L. Sellers, III (Lumumba); and South Carolina State Rep. Bakari Sellers.