Cleveland Sellers was born in Denmark, South Carolina, in 1945, where he attended high school at Voorhees College. In 1962, he enrolled at Howard University and joined the Nonviolent Action Group (NVA), a SNCC affiliate. As a member of this organization, Sellers participated in picketing in front of the White House, arranging for Malcolm X to speak at Howard, and bringing black Mississippians to Washington, D.C., to speak to their Congressman and report racist activities. He went to Mississippi in 1964 as a part of SNCC’s “Freedom Summer” and in 1965 was elected the organization’s program director. Sellers also participated in SNCC’s Alabama initiatives and in the march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968, Sellers helped organize a protest of segregated bowling alleys in which three South Carolina State students were killed by Highway Patrol officers. Sellars was later convicted of inciting this riot, known as the “Orangeburg Massacre.” Although he was eventually pardoned, Sellars spent seven months in prison, during which time he completed an autobiography, The River of No Return. Sellers then returned to Howard to complete his undergraduate degree and went on to earn a master’s degree at Harvard University. In 1987, he earned his Doctorate in Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and participated in the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Sellers later directed the African-American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.