Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Intergenerational Ironies of Law Career

BOND: Do you find it ironic or just a commentary on South Carolina being a relatively small state that you now work for the son of the man who arrested your father and put him in jail?

SELLERS: I find it ironic. It’s something that we don’t talk about every day. He’s a brilliant, brilliant lawyer, and I am learning a lot from him. But he loves his father tremendously —

BOND: Sure, of course.

SELLERS: — just like I love my father and just like your son loves you and you love your father. I mean, it’s an undying love, and when you talk about South Carolina law enforcement, you have to mention the name of J.P. Strom, his father, I mean that he was the chief of SLED for twenty-seven, maybe thirty years.

BOND: And SLED was the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

SELLERS: South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and they said that although Governor McNair brought in the National Guard to Orangeburg in February of ’68, Chief Strom still was the man. I mean, everybody knew that he was the chief. But Chief Strom also didn’t want to prosecute my father. He felt like that would cause some type of social unrest. That decision laid in the lap of Governor McNair, but Dr. King did say something that was quite interesting that I don’t know if my boss knows, but — it’s something we don’t talk about a lot — and Dr. King in his letter wrote that the blood of the three individuals who died rests on the souls of Chief Strom and Robert McNair, so that’s a little interesting and we just — we live by the theory that you can’t blame a man for the sins of his father and I think it shows some reconciliation. And not too many people know about it. I asked my father how would he feel about it, and my father’s like, "You know what, okay, whatever, you know, pass the hot sauce, it’s okay." And he was cool with it and my mom was cool with it and other than that, not too many people know about it.

BOND: But it does say something about at least a change in South Carolina’s race relations, don’t you think?

SELLERS: Definitely.

BOND: That the son is different from that father.

SELLERS: Yeah, he’s definitely different. I mean, I'm —

BOND: As you’re in some ways different from your father.

SELLERS: Oh, definitely. And, I mean, he tells you that he’s grown up with African Americans his whole life. I mean, he attributes — there was one lady who raised him practically his whole life and is still there with his family to this day, and she’s not a nanny or an aide. I mean, she’s a grandmother. I mean, she is a fixture, a permanent fixture in the family. And I guess that shows you how things heal and things change with time.