February 27, 2012
Fighter for racial justice: Bob Zellner to present spring Dorothy L. Thompson Lecture on civil rights
A longtime civil rights activist who counted Martin Luther King Jr. as a friend and mentor will be the speaker for the spring 2012 Dorothy L. Thompson Civil Rights Lecture Series at Kansas State University.
Bob Zellner will present his lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, in Forum Hall at the K-State Student Union. It is free and open to the public. Following the lecture, Zellner will sign copies of his 2008 autobiography, "The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement," that details his lifelong engagement in the civil rights movement. Books will be available for purchase at the discounted price of $15.
Born and raised in south Alabama, Zellner was drawn to the civil rights movement while an undergraduate in the late 1950s and 1960s. He became the first white Southerner to serve as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was arrested 18 times in seven states on a variety of charges, including criminal anarchy and inciting blacks to acts of war and violence against whites.
An honors graduate of Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., with bachelor's degrees in sociology and psychology, Zellner went on to study race relations at the Graduate School of Sociology at Brandeis University from 1963-1965. He took part in the investigation by civil rights groups of the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964. Their deaths were the focus of the movie "Mississippi Burning." Because Zellner believed the movie distorted the role of the FBI in the civil rights movement, he toured college campuses to lecture on the history of the movement and FBI efforts to derail it in the South, as well as the agency's treatment of civil rights leader King.
Zellner and his wife were active in the Southern Conference Educational Fund, which organized an anti-racism project for black and while workers in the Deep South called the Grass Roots Organizing Work, or GROW. He also spent six weeks in China in 1972, visiting paper plants, studying pulpwood harvesting and lecturing at the National Institute for Minorities in Peking about the American civil rights movement.
While working on his doctorate in history from Tulane University in the early 1990s, Zellner and Julian Bond, now national NAACP chairman, organized the National Civil Rights Coordinating Committee. Zellner also works with the Eastern Long Island branch of the NAACP as well as the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force. As co-chair of the task force in 2000, Zellner's elbow was broken while mediating a dispute between police and members of the Shinnecock Nation, who were trying to protect ancestral burial grounds from development. A federal jury in 2007 cleared Zellner and tribe members of charges involved with the case and awarded them compensatory and punitive damages.
In 2005, Zellner was featured in the award-winning documentary "Come Walk in My Shoes," about John Lewis' pilgrimage to Selma, Ala., and other noted sites in the civil rights movement.
The Dorothy L. Thompson Lecture Series was established in recognition of Thompson's contributions to the field of human rights on campuses throughout Kansas and the nation. Thompson was associated with Kansas State University from 1971 until her death in 1992. She served as the university's director of affirmative action and as associate university attorney.