In 1968 state troopers gunned down black students protesting the segregation of a South Carolina bowling alley, killing three and injuring 28. The Orangeburg Massacre was one of the most violent moments of the Southern civil rights movement, and only one person served prison time in its aftermath: a young black man by the name of Cleveland Sellers Jr. Many years later, the state would recognize that Sellers was a scapegoat in that college campus tragedy and would issue a full pardon.
Outside Agitator: The Civil Rights Struggle of Cleveland Sellers Jr. (2018, Hub City Press), is the story of Sellers’ early activism: organizing a lunch counter sit-in as a 15-year-old in the tiny South Carolina town of Denmark, registering voters in Alabama and Mississippi, refusing the Vietnam War draft, serving as national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and working alongside 1960s civil rights icons Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr., H. Rap Brown and Malcolm X. It's also the story of his lifelong struggle to overcome the Orangeburg incident and his slow crawl to justice. That journey takes him to Harvard University, then to a hard-fought position in civil service in Greensboro, North Carolina. And in a triumphant end to his career, a major Southern university elevates Sellers to chair its African-American Studies program, and the historically black college in his hometown respectfully calls him to be its president.
Cleveland Sellers talks with Walter Edgar and biographer Adam Parker.
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