WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Former South Carolina Representative Bakari Sellers discussed progress in race relations during his keynote speech at an event honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Tuesday night at UNCW.
Sellers shared his message at the King celebration titled When Tomorrow Is Today: The Fierce Urgency of Now!
“When we talk about how far we have come, I think it’s important to use historical context," said Sellers.
He told the story of George Elmore, a successful black entrepreneur from South Carolina. In the summer of 1946, Elmore managed to register to vote in Columbia but was denied the right to cast a ballot.
Elmore later became the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit, Elmore vs. Rice, that helped African-Americans get the right to vote.
Despite the progress that has been made, Sellers said as a country, we still have a long way to go.
“Many black and brown people in this country, many poor people don’t have access to public transportation or affordable housing," said Sellers. "They don’t have access to clean air or clean water. What if I told you that there are 100 communities in these United States of America that have a higher lead concentration than Flint, Michigan?”
Sellers' appearance comes on the heels of an incident in Washington last weekend involving students from a high school in Kentucky and a Native American group. Sellers, who is a commentator for CNN, was among those who weighed in on the controversy and has since been scrutinized as new video has shown a fuller picture of what transpired that day.
Sellers deleted his tweet, where he characterized the student at the center of the video as deplorable.
The tweet read: “He is a deplorable. Some ppl can also be punched in the face.”
The comment drew criticism from supporters of the students on social media, with some turning their attention to Sellers’ appearance at UNCW.
Sellers on Tuesday explained his decision to delete the message from his social media account.
“Social media is both a gift and a curse,” Sellers said. “For me, I know better and understand you have to be very cautious in your words, especially with my platform. But I was attempting to be metaphoric in responding to those students.
“I would have been better served if I said those kids were deplorable and gave the traditional South Carolina ‘Bless your Heart.’”
The university released the following statement in response to those critical of Sellers’ appearance on campus this evening:
“While we do not believe the use of inflammatory language, however casually used, is productive, we are committed to protecting Freedom of Expression among our students, employees and guests, as well as a culture of dignity and respect. We recognize Mr. Sellers’ right to express his opinion, even if it is not one shared by the university.”
Sellers may have walked back the style of criticism, but he remained insistent in his view that he believes the students displayed bigotry in their actions.
“I’m never going to be quiet when it comes to speaking out against racism, bigotry and xenophobia,” Sellers said.