“Nigger-loving motherf***ing Jew communist queer Goddamn Yankee from New York City,” were the words used to describe Bob Zellner as a mob of white people descended upon him with chains, bricks, lead pipes, and baseball bats on October 4, 1961, in McComb, Mississippi. Students from McComb’s Burgland High School had staged a march in response to the expulsion of Brenda Travis who had been arrested for sitting-in at the Trailways bus station. Bob Zellner was white. That made him a special target for the mob that greeted young Black protesters.
Zellner was SNCC’s first white field secretary. He was not just white, but from Alabama, and his father and grandfather had been members of the Ku Klux Klan. As the son of a Methodist minister, Zellner’s interest in civil rights was rooted in his religious faith. When his father broke away from the Klan, his mother made Sunday school shirts from the white robes. Even forty years after the civil rights movement, the transition from son and grandson of Klansmen to field secretary of SNCC seems quite a journey. In the early 1960s, when Bob Zellner’s professors and classmates at a small church school in Alabama thought he was crazy for even wanting to do research on civil rights, it was nothing short of remarkable.
Now, in his long-awaited memoir, Zellner tells how one white Alabamian joined ranks with the black students who were sitting-in, marching, fighting, and sometimes dying to challenge the Southern “way of life” he had been raised on but rejected. Decades later, he is still protesting on behalf of social change and equal rights. Vertikal Life was invited to review the movie, “Son Of The South,” and to join a conversation with Robert Zellner, Author Kenneth Weene, Monica Brinkman ( Writings, Chats, and Friends), and Barry Brown (Writer & Director), and Produced by Spike Lee is about this movie coming out on Friday, based on Zellner’s autobiography, “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek.” A grandson of a Klansman comes of age in the deep south and eventually joins the Civil Rights Movement.
Zellner’s mentors were John Lewis, where both men had so much in common and grew up 30 miles away from each other and John Lewis became a mentor along with Julian Bond, and Rosa Parks. Rarely are we introduced to White Americans that were integral parts of the Civil Rights Movement, but Son of the South shares how those Whites were also ostracized by their own, and many died for their belief that “All Men are Created Equal.” Hope you take the time to watch this movie.