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Multicultural Programs and Services

MLK Celebration Speaker

Clemson University has selected Bob Zellner, as the keynote speaker for its 32nd Annual MLK Commemorative Service Jan. 21.

Dr. Bob Zellner was born on April 5, 1939, and raised in south Alabama, the second of five boys born to Methodist minister James Abraham Zellner and school teacher Ruby Hardy Zellner. In 1961, he received a B.A. from Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Ala., with highest honors in sociology and psychology. Zellner was the first white southerner to serve as field secretary for SNCC ("Snick"), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Arrested 18 times in seven states, Zellner was charged with everything from criminal anarchy to "inciting the black population to acts of war and violence against the white population."

When SNCC became an all black organization in 1967, Zellner and his wife Dottie joined SCEF, the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) to organize an anti-racism project for black and white workers in the Deep South called GROW, Grass Roots Organizing Work, also called Get Rid Of Wallace.

Beginning in the mid-sixties Zellner 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 Zellner 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.

As co-chair of the Town of Southampton Anti-Bias Task Force in 2000, Zellner’s right elbow was broken when he mediated a dispute between the police and the Shinnecock Nation. Troopers attacked Dr. Zellner and members of the tribe who were protecting ancestral burial grounds from developer’s bulldozers. All who were injured were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. A Federal jury, in 2007, agreeing with civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, ruled that Zellner and the Shinnecock were victims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, and denial of civil rights. They were awarded compensatory and punitive damages.

Zellner’s memoir, "The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement", with Constance Curry and foreword by Julian Bond, was published by New South Books in the November 2008. In August 2008, the Library Journal gave the book a Red Star Review: "He tells a story that is sometimes horrific, always interesting and ultimately inspirational about a white Southerner’s commitment to racial justice."

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