Dr. Bob Zellner, born on April 5, 1939, was raised in southern Alabama, the second of five boys born to Methodist minister James Abraham Zellner and school teacher Ruby Hardy Zellner. A 1957 graduation speaker at Murphy High School in Mobile, he received a BA from Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Alabama in 1961 with highest honors in Sociology and Psychology. After teaching at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, Bob was the first white southerner to serve as Field Secretary for SNCC ("Snick"), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Arrested 18 times in seven states, he organized in McComb, Miss., Albany, Ga., Danville, Va., Talladega, Montgomery, and Birmingham, Ala., as well as New Haven, Ct., and Boston, Mass. Zellner was charged with everything from criminal anarchy in Baton Rouge to "inciting the black population to acts of war and violence against the white population" in Danville. From 1963 to 1965, Zellner studied race relations in the Graduate School of Sociology at Brandeis University. During Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, he traveled with Rita Schwerner while conducting part of SNCC's and CORE's investigation into the disappearance of her husband Mickey Schwerner and his co-workers James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.
When SNCC became an all black organization in 1967, Bob and his wife Dottie joined SCEF, the Southern Conference Educational Fund to organize an anti-racism project for black and white workers in the Deep South. This project called GROW (Grass Roots Organizing Work) and also known as Get Rid Of Wallace, built a residential educational facility in New Orleans and began organizing the Gulfcoast Pulpwood Association beginning in Laurel, Miss. where a wildcat strike involving black and white Masonite factory workers and woodcutters spread across the southern states.
Following Nixon's ping pong diplomacy in 1972, Bob Zellner spent six weeks in China visiting paper plants, studying pulpwood harvesting, and lecturing at the National Institute for Minorities in Peking on SNCC, SCEF and multicultural work in the white community.
Beginning in the mid-sixties, Bob worked on documentary and feature films, traveling to Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and Mexico. The film Mississippi Burning so distorted the role of the FBI in the movement that Bob toured college campuses lecturing on the real history of the struggle. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, far from being heroes of the movement, hounded Zellner's friend and mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and launched the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a U.S. government attack designed to destroy the Freedom Movement.
In the early 1990s, studying at Tulane University for a Ph.D. in History, Zellner wrote a dissertation on the Southern civil rights movement. While working on the dissertation, he taught the History of Activism at Rosemont College and Southampton College of Long Island University with Julian Bond, now the National NAACP Chairman, with whom Bob organized the National Civil Rights Coordinating Committee. Currently Bob works with the Eastern Long Island Branch of the NAACP headed by Lucius Ware and with the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force under the leadership of Dianne Rulnick.
In 2005, Bob Zellner was featured in the award-winning documentary Come Walk in My Shoes. This congressional pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama, and other sites of the freedom struggle was led by the Honorable John Lewis and filmed by Robin Smith, President and Founder of Video Action. The documentary is airing periodically on PBS through 2010.
Bob's memoir, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, edited by Connie Curry and with a foreword by Julian Bond, was published by NewSouth Books in the fall of 2008.