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College of Education

The Second Travelstead Award for Courage in Education presented to Cleveland L. Sellers, Jr.

In the autumn of 2010, the Second Travelstead Award for Courage in Education was presented to President Cleveland Sellers of Voorhees College in recognition of his leadership in South Carolina to combat various forms of racism and to fight for social justice. Cleveland Sellers served as program secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer. He would return to Orangeburg to find himself embroiled in the events at South Carolina State University that would become known as The Orangeburg Massacre.

Introduction by Craig Kridel

“We are so pleased to be able to present the 2010 Travelstead Award for Courage in Education to an individual whose career has embraced these values while speaking out for civil rights, democratic change, thoughtful, civil discourse, and social justice—Cleveland L. Sellers, Jr. President of Voorhees College, former University of South Carolina Department of History faculty and chair of the African American Studies Program (a program described by President Pastides as “Cleveland Sellers' legacy").

Dr. Sellers, at the precocious age of 15, organized a lunch counter protest in his home town of Denmark, SC. A few years later he would join and become program secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. With SNCC, he would participate in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, voter registration programs, and work with Fanny Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael and many others whose struggles would ultimately lead to a more just and thoughtful democracy. Cleveland Sellers would return to Orangeburg to find himself embroiled in the events at South Carolina State University that would become known as The Orangeburg Massacre. Charged, convicted, and later (much later) acquitted of rioting, Dr. Sellers continues the quest for truth and reconciliation as the state of South Carolina attempts (or should attempt) to understand and to heal from the murder of these young people. As president of Voorhees College, Dr. Sellers is establishing a "community of learning" and fostering a global perspective for students as he helps to redefine the nature of the undergraduate experience for a historically black college.

In his autobiography, The River of No Return, he states “In spite of sometimes overwhelming odds, I never really strayed from my principles and loyalties. I have developed patience and constantly renew my dedication to the creation of a more humane world.” We are honored to have you with us today, President Sellers, and equally we are honored to have with us today the son of late Dean Travelstead, Coleman Travelstead, who has come here from Albuquerque to serve as the presenter of this award. Mr. Travelstead is publisher of  Innovation: America's Journal of Technology Commercialization and former associate publisher of Vista Magazine. He has worked in banking throughout the world, was director of the World Trade Center Miami, and has been the president of the UNM Alumni Association.”

The University of South Carolina Museum of Education
Chester C. Travelstead Award for Courage in Education
presented to Cleveland L. Sellers, Jr.

in recognition of his leadership in South Carolina to further the values of integrity, intellectual spirit, justice, and stewardship and, in so doing, allowing schools to become more compassionate, more generous, more humane, and more thoughtful.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” -Maya Angelou

Mr. Coleman Travelstead, son of Chester C. Travelstead, introduces Cleveland Sellers; link to Youtube

The recipient of the second Travelstead Award: President Cleveland Sellers, Jr. acceptance speech: link to Youtube

The Travelstead Incident

“Here and now, in the summer of 1955, we find ourselves faced with the necessity of making many momentous decisions with respect to the schools in this country. Perhaps at no other time in the history of education has so great a sense of gravity and urgency characterized the action concerning schools which is being taken and which must be taken in the near future.”

This statement from a speech, “Today’s Decision for Tomorrow’s Schools,” by the Dean of the USC School of Education, Chester C. Travelstead, expressed his support for the Brown and Briggs v Elliott decisions. Travelstead went on to say, “Education takes place in many ways. Our children can be educated to deceit and chicanery, as well as they can be educated to integrity and loyalty. This education, of course, is not confined to the schools or homes. These children learn from everything they see and hear. In this crucial matter which faces us all in 1955, our children will learn much by observation of our words and deeds.”

Three weeks later, he received a letter from the USC Board of Trustees dismissing him from the university. He was subsequently hired by the University of New Mexico as dean of education, and Newsweek magazine, in 1955, reported, “the president of the New Mexico institution, said: ‘Dr. Travelstead’s troubles in South Carolina were more of a recommendation than an indictment.’” Travelstead stayed for the remainder of his career at the University of New Mexico, ultimately serving as the provost of that institution.

Reflecting upon this incident in 1983, Dr. Travelstead wrote, “What happened to me personally in South Carolina in 1955 is not highly important—except to me; but it was both illustrative and symbolic of the turmoil in the Deep South at mid-century. And this event, if put in proper perspective, could serve as a warning about what can and does happen to people when the rights, hopes, and opportunities for any group—or for even one person—are thwarted or violated. As for me, I hold no bitterness toward any individual or group of individuals in the Deep South.”