Cleveland Sellers, 64, Earns Eagle Scout Award

Cleveland Sellers, 64, gets his Eagle Scout Award this week. The director of the African American Studies program at the University of South Carolina told the Associated Press, "I think it's important for people to know who I am, and maybe through the process that will help lower the barrier and lower the kind of imagery they have of me." He talks with John Ydstie.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Cleveland Sellers has been called many things - a civil rights hero, an agitator, a teacher, a black militant, a lawbreaker. He's 64 years old right now, but on Monday, he will add a title to that list that's more appropriate for a teenager - Eagle Scout.

Dr. Sellers was on track to get the award decades ago, but his paperwork was lost. Today, Dr. Sellers is director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. He joins us from his office in Columbia. Welcome.

Dr. CLEVELAND SELLERS (Director, African American Studies Program, University of South Carolina): Thank you for having me.

YDSTIE: Congratulations, Dr. Sellers.

Dr. SELLERS: Thank you. Thank you. I'm very pleased to finally be receiving this certificate and award.

YDSTIE: What do you remember most about your days as a Boy Scout?

Dr. SELLERS: I remember the challenges, and I remember the requirements to grow in rank and grow in knowledge and information. In 1960, I actually went to the National Jamboree, which was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I had an opportunity there to meet a lot of other scouts from all around the world. The scouting program just provided a lot of alternatives to the kind of idleness that many young people today kind of experience.

YDSTIE: You were involved in something that was later called the Orangeburg Massacre back in 1968.

Dr. SELLERS: Right. At the point where it was time for me to continue my education, I moved to Orangeburg. I found that the students there had some concerns about a bowling alley that excluded African-Americans. The students engaged in protests and they - an officer was struck in the head by some object that was thrown. Allegedly, the police thought that he was shot, and nine officers opened fire, and they actually wounded well over 30 young students. Three were killed, I got shot and, later that night, was arrested. But it has been that kind of plight for many of us who had been involved in civil rights.

YDSTIE: And in many ways, the very characteristics that you exhibited as a civil rights activist or characteristics that an Eagle Scout ought to have.

Dr. SELLERS: That's what I thought, but, you know, sometimes people get it the other way around. But that's all right because, you know, I'm comfortable with the way I am, but I am not comfortable with what I see that's happening with a lot of young people. And so one of the easiest things we can do is we can take a look at the Boy Scouts as one of the alternatives that we can utilize within the African-American community, and hopefully, we can get them into the rural communities and in the inner cities and a lot of other places.

YDSTIE: Dr. Sellers, thank you very much.

Dr. SELLERS: Bye.

YDSTIE: Dr. Cleveland Sellers is director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina, and on Monday, he'll become an Eagle Scout.

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