Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Election to South Carolina Legislature

BOND: And what made you think you’d be a fit in the South Carolina legislature?

SELLERS: I thought I wasn’t going to be a fit, but I thought that would make me the most effective. I didn’t want to go and fit in. I thought we had too many African American elected officials trying to fit in. That was the greatest disappointment I had when I got elected, and that’s the greatest disappointment I have not only in our United States Congress but in various state legislatures throughout the country, and that’s the void in African American leadership. I think you have to gain the respect and be a friend to your colleagues, but I don’t think you have to fit in.

BOND: Well, by fitting in, I didn’t mean that you had to go along to get along or get along to go along, but why did you think that would be a place you could serve?

SELLERS: I looked at my community. I came back home. I ran in Denmark. I was raised in Denmark, and I just felt like my community wasn’t even growing stagnantly. I mean, economically, socially, and educationally we were on the decline. I ran against Representative Thomas Rhoad, who was eighty-two years old, had been in office for twenty-six years and is a fine human being, a great person, but I think I felt and my district felt that it was definitely a time for a change. And I think people were refreshed by the type of campaign that I ran. We had billboards. We had radio spots. We had phone banks. We knocked on doors. We ran a real live campaign in Bamberg, Barnwell, and Orangeburg County and it’s something people had never seen before. People weren’t used to, you know, hearing somebody from their hometown on gospel radio every morning leading up to the election, and I would get people to say, “Well, I got your phone call the other day and it was a robo-call,” so people were just not used to it and those type of — it was refreshing and people were able to make me seriously, take my campaign seriously, and although they didn’t think I was going to win, they cast their vote for me anyway, and it was — we cried a lot. My dad cried that night, too. We had this huge poster board that we got from like CVS, and I still have it today and it has all the precincts and we have these T-chart with squiggly lines and how many votes he got and how many votes I got and it rained so hard that the electricity went out in Barnwell County so they had to vote on paper ballots and the votes from Bamberg and Orangeburg County were in and I was up by about 400, 500 votes and I knew that I was going to lose Barnwell County. I also knew there were about 800 votes over there, and I said, "There’re enough votes over other to beat me." So we had to wait on those to come in and I got soundly defeated, but it was only 40 to 8, so I don’t know if they like me too much in Barnwell County. I think they’re starting to like me, but that was a cool night. And I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.

BOND: So your constituents went from being represented by the oldest person in the legislature to being represented by the youngest and how did your colleagues to be take you, your colleagues take you?

SELLERS: Once they realized I wasn’t a page, they loved me. It was cool. I mean, we have — we’re very cordial. We talk a lot. It’s a club. I mean, it is a club. We go to football games together. We go edit on the floor. We call each other every name on the floor but a child of God and afterwards, we go out and we have a beer and we talk about life, so it’s cool. I’m the age of a lot of their kids.

BOND: I’m sure.

SELLERS: But they value my opinion, I think.