Archive for the 'Civil Rights' Category

Barry Alexander Brown, Spike Lee team up on movie project based on Bob Zellner book

Monday, June 10th, 2019 by Matthew Byrne

Legendary civil rights activist Bob Zellner gained a loyal cadre of fans after the publication of his award-winning memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek in 2011, a book which was recently re-released in trade paperback, but the story will reach an entirely new audience with the production of Son of the South, a movie based on his book that is due out in fall 2019. Barry Alexander Brown and Spike Lee team up on 222-2 TWSMC fcover 300dpi project, with Brown directing and Lee signed on as executive producer; Brown has worked with Lee for more than 30 years, serving as editor on almost every film Lee has made. Brown met Bob Zellner twenty years ago and was fascinated by the civil rights activist’s story of redemption. He has adapted Zellner’s memoir into a biographical film, covering Zellner’s life from his time as a youth (he was born into a Klan family) to his becoming the first white field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The film features two rising stars in Lucas Till and Lucy Hale, both well-known for their roles in the hit TV shows MacGyver and Pretty Little Liars, respectively. Till plays Zellner with the passion and commitment to civil and human rights causes that the subject retains in his 80th year. To film one exciting scene, Brown and crew reenacted the tragic beating the Freedom Riders suffered in Montgomery outside of the actual Greyhound bus station where the historic event took place. Read more about Son of the South at the Hollywood Reporter and Variety (;, at, and also enjoy a special documentary interview with Barry Brown from Germantown High School’s student-led news program:

Author Ken Woodley featured on 1A, an NPR program

Friday, April 12th, 2019 by Matthew Byrne

Reparations may be a hot topic this election season, but Ken Woodley has been fighting for reparations since the early 2000s.On Joshua Johnson’s 1A (an NPR program), Woodley was featured live on a panel of
72ppi 354-RTH jacket v300experts brought together to discuss reparations. The panel included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Danielle Kurtzleben, author Kirsten Mullen, and James Antle. Woodley’s new book, The Road to Healing, tells the story of his successful fight for civil rights reparations in Prince Edward County, Virginia, where public schools closed in response to the Brown v Board decision. Woodley,  however, says he sees the need for reparations for slavery and civil rights injustices on a national scale. Listen in here:

NPR’s Michel Martin talks with Rev. Graetz, panelists on 60th anniversary of Montgomery Bus Boycott

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

A White Preacher's Message on Race and Reconciliation by Rev. Robert GraetzOn the occasion of the recent 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, NPR’s Michel Martin held an important and far-reaching panel discussion at the historical Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, with a live audience and also aired live on NPR. Panelists included historian Taylor Branch, Alabama State University president Gwendolyn Boyd, Ebony Howard of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Reverend Bob Graetz, pastor of Trinity Lutheran church during the boycott and author of A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation (NewSouth Books, 2006).

Martin noted that the Bus Boycott anniversary comes at a time in American history where the public has seen numerous acts of violence against African Americans both in mass shootings and police brutality. At the same time she pointed out that reactions to those events suggest rising activism and the birth of a new civil rights movement.

Branch pointed out similar contradictions at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. “The country was in a tremendous fix over the perpetual contradiction between slavery and American freedom. You had just had the Brown decision a year before in which eight white justices had said segregation was incompatible with American freedom. But nothing really had happened yet, except that the South had risen up against the ruling. And just a few months before the bus boycotts started, you had the Emmett Till lynching — a young man, roughly the same age as many of the activists who would later start the sit-ins and freedom rides, born in 1940, lynched at 14-years-old. … America was idealistic and yet raw and evasive on race.”

Branch and President Boyd also discussed the various origins of the Bus Boycott, including that Alabama State University teacher JoAnn Robinson and other female teachers used school resources to print flyers advertising the boycott, an act that risked their jobs, and also that the NAACP’s E. D. Nixon gathered local pastors to discuss the boycott, and these initiatives ultimately merged into the year-long movement. Boyd also discussed Rosa Parks’s role as NAACP secretary and how she and civil rights lawyer Fred Gray had discussed beforehand the need for a test case toward desegregating Montgomery buses, which Gray also relates in his memoir Bus Ride to Justice.

The panel discussion moved to issues of access to education for African American students, and Martin also brought in Karen Jones, credited as founder of the Black Lives Matter movement in Montgomery. Howard described a recent court case that she won banning the use of pepper spray to punish predominantly African American students in Birmingham, AL schools.

Rev. Graetz answered a number of questions submitted on Twitter during the event. One person asked how whites can work toward equality “without falling into white savior mindset,” to which Graetz advised, “Start where you are, and … look around and see what the situation is, and then you begin to ask yourself what can I do about it? What can I do to help this situation become improved. Oftentimes it will be some very minor thing … there are so many little things we can do.”

To a Twitter comment that there’s an absence of clergy leadership in current civil rights efforts, Graetz agreed and told that “regularly in the meetings of the board of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Dr. King would stand before us and say to us, ‘Some of us in this room are going to die. If you can’t deal with that, you shouldn’t be here.’ … Nobody ever left. I find it difficult to believe that in a comparable meeting of clergy today, when someone would pose that question to us … I doubt if we’d have the same response. I don’t think we’re ready to make that total commitment and total sacrifice as was the case in the people 60 years ago.”

As Martin concluded the discussion, Rev. Graetz offered this final thought: E. D. Nixon, the “grandfather for the movement … used to say we’re not doing this for ourselves, were doing this for the children coming on. That’s got to be our focus.”

The full discussion is available for listening from NPR. Rev. Robert Graetz’s memoir, A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation: Based on His Experiences with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Legendary civil rights attorney Solomon Seay Jr. leaves legacy in passing

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 by Randall Williams

Jim Crow and Me: Stories from My Life as a Civil Rights LawyerCivil rights attorney Solomon S. Seay Jr. of Montgomery has died at age 84. Seay was the son of the Reverend Solomon S. Seay, a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the architects of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The younger Seay graduated from Howard University Law School and opened his law office in Montgomery in 1957, shortly after the end of the boycott, just in time to play a key role in the escalating battles against Jim Crow segregation in education, housing, public accommodations, and other areas. Over the next half-century, attorney Seay, often in collaboration with his longtime law partner Fred D. Gray and/or the NAACP, ACLU, and other civil rights groups, won landmark rulings in scores of legal cases.

Seay describes his work and shares his observations about the people and times in his eloquent and witty memoir, Jim Crow and Me: Stories from My Life as a Civil Rights Lawyer (NewSouth, 2009).

Attorney Fred Gray, his friend and colleague, said, “Sol and I worked together in the practice of civil rights law for almost fifty years. He played a major role in most all of the civil rights cases I handled during that period of time. His first civil rights case, Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, desegregated the public parks of Montgomery, and he went on from there. What he did in the civil rights movement has been felt not only in Montgomery but also in the state of Alabama and the United States of America. Each of us should be proud of what he did for mankind. He will be sorely missed but never replaced.”

A large crowd, including friends and fellow lawyers and judges from across the nation, gathered at the Church of the Ascension on September 19 for a memorial service, with burial following in a local cemetery.

Jim Crow and Me is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Remembering Lynn Huntley, Southern Education Foundation president emerita

Friday, September 18th, 2015 by Randall Williams
Lynn Walker Huntley (courtesy Southern Education Foundation)

NewSouth Books joins the chorus of voices mourning the recent passing of Lynn Huntley, former president of the Southern Education Foundation. For two decades, Lynn brought effective, creative leadership to the SEF, which has long been a powerful force for improved education, better race relations, and greater understanding in our region.

SEF VP Steve Suitts (author of NewSouths Hugo Black of Alabama) directed us to this post on the Southern Education Foundation website that remembers Lynn and also includes an essay she wrote for the World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia. Lynns essay, “A Message to the Next Generation,” is as timely today as it was when she wrote it for the youth conference in South Africa in 2001.

The SEF post also included a link to a video of Lynn speaking to the first class of the Southern Education Leadership Initiative (SELI), which we’ve embedded below.

Remembering Julian Bond

Monday, August 17th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

NewSouth Books mourns the untimely loss of our friend and noted civil rights leader Julian Bond, who died over the weekend at age 75. Bond was one of the organizers of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), President Emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center, national chairman of the NAACP, a longtime Georgia state senator, a founder of the Institute for Southern Studies, a distinguished professor of history, and an internationally known lecturer, writer, and commentator. Bond wrote forewords and commentary for several NewSouth titles, including the autobiography of fellow SNCC member Bob Zellner, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek.

Bond is pictured in March 2015 with NewSouth editor-in-chief Randall Williams (left) and Will Campbell, an attorney from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, during a bus tour Williams was narrating of civil rights sites in Montgomery and Lowndes County. This was part of a civil rights study tour that Bond and his wife, Pamela Horowitz, hosted for the University of Virginia each spring. Horowitz, Williams, and Campbell were staffers at the Southern Poverty Law Center in the 1970s, while Bond was SPLC president.

Julian was unusual among civil rights leaders in that he was an intellectual first and an activist second, more inclined to analysis than agitation, and more comfortable influencing opinion than making news, though he did plenty of the latter, too, said Williams. He never wavered from his principled stands. He was steadfastly against war, injustice, and poverty, and passionately for peace, human dignity, and equality of opportunity. And even though he was an accomplished historian, he paid close attention to popular culture, and he was always the best-informed, smartest, and funniest person in the room. He left us far too soon, and we will miss him more than we realize even in our grief of the moment.

Randall Williams, Julian Bond, and Will Campbell, on a civil rights study tour for the University of Virginia

Remembering Guy Carawan, civil rights activist and folk singer

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison
Guy and Candie Carawan, authors of Sing for Freedom. (Courtesy Patheos)

Civil rights activist and folk singer Guy Carawan died on May 3 after a long illness. Guy and his wife Candie co-authored Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, published by NewSouth Books in 2007.

Carawan was perhaps best known for introducing the song “We Shall Overcome” to the civil rights movement. In a tribute to the musician, National Public Radio featured excerpts from an archived story on the song. Carawan recalled learning the piece from a musician who performed it with guitar accompaniment. But when Carawan performed it with guitar for student activists, they had another idea:

“And then at a certain point, those young singers who knew a lot of a cappella styles – they said, lay that guitar down, boy. We can do the song better [laughter]. And they put that sort of triplet to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. It had a way of rendering it – a style that some very powerful young singers got behind spread.”

ABC News spoke with Candie Carawan, who told them, “Guy very peacefully slipped away. When you know somebody is on their way, it was really the best way to go, and I was very grateful that was how it was.”

Guy Carawan’s legacy will continue through the Highlander Research and Education Center with which he was closely associated, and the song that continues to be performed 55 years after he taught it to young activists.

Sing For Freedom is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

The Week on Bob Zellner’s walk to protest demise of rural American healthcare

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison

The USA edition of the British paper The Week featured Bob Zellner (pictured fourth from left) — author of The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, published by NewSouth Books — in a article on the partnership between a conservative and a progressive activist advocating on behalf of rural healthcare, an endangered species.

Democrat Zellner and his friend Adam O’Neal, the Reublican mayor of Belhaven, North Carolina, were interviewed by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about an arduous and sometimes lonely two week-long walk from Belhaven to Washington, D.C. the pair made in the summer of 2014 to draw attention to the demise of rural hospitals caused by states’ refusals to expand Medicaid. The walk will be made again beginning June 1, with the men planning this time to be accompanied by 283 walkers representing the number of hospitals closed. More information on the walk is available at the Walk from NC to DC website.

The protest began when a Belhaven resident died waiting for transport to a hospital after the local hospital was closed due to lack of state funding.

The Week points out, “‘Critical access’ hospitals were established during the Truman administration to provide life-saving healthcare to America’s heartland, where people often find themselves too far removed from a regional hospital to receive timely treatment in an emergency. Because they do not see the volume of patients that have become the norm at major regional hospitals, these critical access hospitals often require federal subsidies to keep the doors open. This is nothing new; their existence has been a justified expense for millions of Americans since 1949.”

The Week adds, “For Zellner, this is a deadlock rooted in Southern history. He draws a direct connection between the civil rights marches of the 1960s and today’s Moral Movement in North Carolina, which has sided with Mayor O’Neal and the people of Belhaven.”

Bob Zellner has spent a lifetime working on behalf of the underprivileged. His life story from his years in SNCC to his current work is recounted in The Wrong Side of Murder Creek.

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Guy and Candie Carawan honored for lifetime of social justice cultural education

Monday, April 27th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison

Sing for Freedom by Guy and Candie Carawan

Guy and Candie Carwan, authors of Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, published by NewSouth Books, were honored recently by the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, McClung Historical Collection, and the Knox County Public Library with a celebration of their work for social justice. The program included a photography exhibit, showing of rare video footage from the civil rights era, and a musical performance.

The Carawans have been associated with the Highlander Research and Education Center, a leading social justice organization, since the 1950s, organizing cultural workshops and serving as consultants to the school. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, “the Carawans were almost the face of the center for many people.” The couple were popular folk musicians who adapted traditional songs with new lyrics about the civil rights struggle. These songs were collected into two collections, We Shall Overcome (1963) and Freedom is a Constant Struggle (1968), reprinted in a single edition by NewSouth Books in 2007.

The News Sentinel interviewed Candie Carawan in connection with the program showcasing their career.

The newspaper quoted Carwan, “We never sat down and plotted out, ‘Well, we’ll be working in the South for 35 years and doing all this documentary work. We just kind of took it year by year and followed our interests and in some ways followed the work that Highlander (Center) was doing. It just kind of added up to an interesting body of work and life of experiences.’

“‘You’ll get to this point, too, where you just cannot believe that much time has gone by and you’ve lived through these incredible periods of history. I think about the way the Civil Rights movement has been commemorated so much lately and it just doesn’t seem like 50 years ago, more than 50 years ago. Again, it’s just to have been so lucky. Both of us grew up in Southern California. How amazing is it that our paths crossed at Highlander and we were able to stay in the South and relate to so much incredible history that was going on?'”

Sing For Freedom is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Episcopal Journal recounts Anniston civil rights violence with Phil Noble

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town by Phil NobleThe February 2015 edition of the Episcopal Journal offers a full-page feature on Reverend Phil Noble’s book Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town, and the events in Anniston, Alabama, that lead to the city’s formation of the Human Relations Council. With racial tension in the news and resurgent interest in the Civil Rights Movement with the release of the movie Selma, Noble’s first-hand account of the violence and reconciliation in his town remains required reading.

The Day1 religious blog also posted an excerpt from Noble’s book.

Noble was minister of Anniston’s First Presbyterian Church in 1961 when the Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston on their mission to end segregation. A mob surrounded their bus, and broke the windows, dragged out and beat the passengers, and set the bus on fire. In his book, Noble recalls that the reaction from the Anniston community was mixed. “Anniston had the capacity for racial violence that was equal to any other community in the South,” Noble writes. “Some felt the horror of the tragedy. Others said, ‘It’s too bad, but they got what they deserved.'”

The violence so alarmed Anniston’s religious, business, and political communities that they created the biracial Human Relations Council, with Noble appointed as the council chair. As the Episcopal Journal recounts, from Beyond the Burning Bus, Noble’s committee would vary their meeting times and locations for fear of those who disagreed.

“We would set a date and time for our next meeting, and then a half-hour or hour before the meeting I would call and tell members the place [to meet],” Noble writes. The group alternated between such locations as a church, the YMCA, a bank’s board room or the Chamber of Commerce. Because white and black members of the council were strangers to each other, Noble describes how he talked about the need for respect and for a sense of trust in how they dealt with one another. Eventually, Noble succeeded.

“The minister at Grace Episcopal Church told one of his members who was to serve later on the Human Relations Committee that we had gotten to a first-name basis, black and white,” Noble writes. “The member was indignant that there would be such familiarity, that blacks would call whites by their first names.”

Deeply entrenched customs pervaded the South then, and segregation still ruled. The council had mixed results in attempting to desegregate the city’s public buildings without incident or violence. An attempt to integrate the public library, undertaken with the approval of the library board, resulted in the beating of two black council members by a group of about 50 whites on the library steps. As the two attempted to flee by car, one was wounded by gunfire.

It is worth noting that, while the mayor and newly elected town commissioner supported the work of the biracial council, the police chief and most members of his force did not. Noble describes how thin a line the council members trod. “The black community thought we were going too slow, and the white community thought we were going too fast,” Noble says. “Our churches were no exception.

“One of the reasons for the success we had was that we were able for the most part to maintain that balance. We made enough progress so that the black community did not feel completely frustrated, and, at the same time, the progress was gradual enough so that the white community accepted it.”

Read the full Episcopal Journal book review at the link. You can also read an additional excerpt from Beyond the Burning Bus at

Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.