“I was a typical young Southerner, born and raised in LA—Lower Alabama.” Meet Bob Zellner.
I got to do just that, last October, when Bob and his activist wife Pamela joined my Common Power Team NC canvassing group. Over big plates of BBQ, I got to ask Bob questions about events I’d read about in his book, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek. Like the time Bob was beaten badly on the steps of the town hall of McComb, Mississippi, in a march led by Black high school students. But in the New York Times article, they called Bob “the leader” of the march–because he was the only White guy there.
You could call Bob the White counterpart of Representative John Lewis; they grew up quite close to each other in Alabama, both poor, both country–but on either side of the color line. Which explains why Bob started life from a KKK-supporting family, before becoming the first White field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s.
In Bob’s interview by Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries (History Professor at The Ohio State University, and, incidentally, brother of Congressman Hakeem Jeffries), you can hear him explain how, “That was the way you got accepted in SNCC–you go to the dangerous places and do what the people were doing.”
Bob’s a folksy guy; like a lot of Southerners, he’s not into drama. Just tells it like it was–and is. His mission today, he says, and for the rest of his life, is to tell young people: “You can be White, and you can be a Civil Rights activist, and you can survive.”
Come to think–that’s a pretty good message right there. Reading Bob’s story, not to mention rubbing shoulders with him, reminded me how ordinary these extraordinary “ACTIVISTS” can be. Maybe a teensy bit braver than I am…
I hope you listen to Bob or check out his book. Pass it on!