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South Carolina - Orangeburg: Cleve Sellers Interviewee [Part 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Tom Dent interviews Cleve Sellers in Denmark, South Carolina. He talks about his background. He went to Howard University in 1962 and left in 1964 as part of the SNCC support group NAG [Nonviolent Action Group]. He went to Mississippi for the Mississippi Summer Project. He had gone to Howard thinking it would be a hotbed of civil rights activity, but did not find that to be the case. Voorhees College is in Denmark, and he attended the attached private high school with tuition paid by the state. He was encouraged to attend Howard there. He was fortunate to have the educational experience he did. He talks more about the colleges in the region and the founding of Voorhees. It was founded in 1898 by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright with the support of Booker T. Washington. There were other black schools in the state at that time, but not in that area. He recalls discussing Emmett Till's death in school, as well as liberation movements in Ghana. The white community in Denmark thought of the black community as "out of sight, out of mind." He had no contact with white peers. They were not considered a threat until the sit-ins started. College President Dr. John Potts did a good job walking the fine line between the protesters and the community. He describes what happened during the sit-ins, which the college students organized, and how the community was affected. There was also conflict between the students and the administration, leading to the students occupying the campus library and arrests from the National Guard. The president had already worked out an agreement with the students and granted amnesty. This occurred after the Orangeburg Massacre, and some of the students were armed. Sellers would consider Denmark an enlightened town thanks to the presence of the college. He completed college at Shaw University, received a Master's degree in Education Administration from Harvard University in 1970, and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro in 1987. He returned to South Carolina after completing his Master's to serve a year for charges received at Orangeburg. His friend Archie Hargraves was the president of Shaw University at that time, so he decided to go there to complete his Bachelor's degree when he was released. He taught in the Afro American Studies department at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He later taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro part time. He was never granted an interview at North Carolina A&T or Bennett College, although he did serve on boards and work on projects with outside funding. It was important to him to go back to where he started out; he was taught that he had a responsibility to gain education and bring it back. He has also applied at Voorhees, but does not think he will be hired. Administrators are frightened of ties to the past. He finds this to be a common black middle class dilemma. He talks about running for city council in Greensboro. They talk about Lewis Brandon, whom Dent has already interviewed. He has worked one-on-one with many of the SGA presidents. He discusses the differences between North Carolina and South Carolina. He compares the black middle class in the two places. There is a progressive community in North Carolina, and Charlotte has had an active black middle class. He sees no noticeable improvement in South Carolina, which he attributes to entrenched legislators. They have lagged in education, which industry does not respond to.
Civil rights demonstrations
Tulane University Digital Library
Box 149, Item 2, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.