Adam Parker’s incisive biography is about a proud black man who refuses to be defeated, whose tumultuous life story personifies America’s continuing civil rights struggle. Read More
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 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.
Adam Parker’s incisive biography is about a proud black man who refuses to be defeated, whose tumultuous life story personifies America’s continuing civil rights struggle.
"With vivid details, Parker unpacks Seller's upbringing and influences, portraying the realities of segregated South Carolina and presenting an ultimately compelling read about an educator and activist, from his earliest involvement in a local NAACP chapter to the flashpoint climax of his involvement in the civil rights movement, especially the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, where he was the sole person convicted and jailed for the protests that occurred. Readers of historical biography, especially related to civil rights and social justice, will enjoy this informative work." —Library Journal, starred review
"Journalist Parker respectfully and accessibly tells the life story of civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers. A biography of a man who 'does not seek the spotlight [but] is content behind the scenes,' this is a worthy addition to the record of the civil rights movement." —Publishers Weekly
"An illuminating study of both a man and a decadeslong civil rights struggle." —Kirkus Reviews
"Although little known and never one to seek attention, Cleveland Sellers is one of the true heroes of the Civil Rights movement and an important pioneer during the creation and development of the teaching of Black History in American colleges and universities. Adam Parker has done an excellent job in telling his story from time in prison to president of a college." — Jack Bass, co-author of The Orangeburg Massacre
"Cleveland Sellers battled body and soul to redeem the promise of American democracy, and his story stands among the most telling and important of the civil rights generation. He took a bullet for his country—not in South Vietnam but in South Carolina, his blood winning him not a Purple Heart but a prison sentence. At age fifteen, he organized sit-ins in his hometown of Denmark, South Carolina. He labored at the heart of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, registered thousands of black sharecroppers to vote for the first time, searched the dark swamps of Mississippi for the bodies of murdered comrades, and pioneered the Black Power movement. Always an educator, he oversaw the Freedom Schools in Marshall County, Mississippi at nineteen and ended his career as a college president. This is a distinctive American story and Adam Parker’s stirring narrative brings it to life." —Timothy B. Tyson, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, author of The Blood of Emmett Till
"Outside Agitator is an important, timely, and significant biography of Cleveland Sellers, one of the heroically transcendent figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Adam Parker’s crucial work helps to remind us that the struggle for racial equality continued long past the 1960s in the resilience of activists and long marchers like Sellers who helped to transform America’s ongoing democratic experiment for the good of all. A must read." —Peniel E. Joseph, author of Stokely: A Life
Cover Image: Mark Stetler, Camera Works Photography