Civil rights activist Bob Zellner continues to advocate for equality and understanding even while balancing some newfound attention. Zellner has been interviewed for an Oprah show segment on the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides set to air May 4, and and pre-production activities continue on a feature film to be executive produced by Spike Lee based on Zellner’s award-winning memoir, published by NewSouth Books, called The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement.
Zellner also appeared on an episode of the Investigation Discovery channel’s Injustice Files, which focused on the unsolved murder of Congress of Racial Equality member William Lewis Moore. Moore, a white postal worker, conducted solo protest marches for civil rights in the 1960s; he was shot and killed in Alabama during one of those marches.
For perspective on the danger Moore faced as a white civil rights activist in the South, Injustice Files host Keith Beauchamp asked Zellner to describe his own experiences. At Zellner’s first protest, he told Beauchamp, pro-segregation activists beat him “very severely,” gouging his eye and threatening him with a hangman’s rope.
“What they didn’t understand,” Zellner said, “is we weren’t just fighting on the side of black people; we were fighting to liberate ourselves” from the racist ideology.
Zellner also recently spoke at the first of California State University’s 2011 Diversity Day programs, relating his first forays into civil rights activism. Zellner’s father and grandfather were both members of the Ku Klux Klan, and it was not until a college assignment that Zellner attended a civil rights rally that included Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. As reported in the Monterey County Weekly, Zellner credits Parks’s advice — “If you see something wrong in the world, you have to do something about it. You can’t just keep studying it.” — with inspiring him to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and to continue to advocate for civil rights.
Recently, the Southampton Press reported, producers from the Oprah show taped Zellner as he travelled Montgomery speaking with Klansmen and police officers who fought with activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Zellner told the Press, “It was exhilarating being back. One of the Klansmen we talked to said, ‘I’ve come to see that Bob was right and I was wrong.’”
Zellner also described trying to protect the Freedom Riders in Montgomery: “The Klan stopped the bus, blew out the tires and burned the bus up with the Freedom Riders on board. Everybody escaped, but some were really injured for life. It was such a murderous mob that they were really attempting to kill the Freedom Riders, attacking them with bricks, leaving some for dead in the streets.” Zellner recounts in greater details these and other events in The Wrong Side of Murder Creek.