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TIME Magazine “One Dream” project spotlights Bob Zellner, civil rights activist

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob ZellnerTIME Magazine has included author and civil rights activist Bob Zellner as part of their “One Dream” multimedia project, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The son and grandson of Klansmen, Zellner turned away from his heritage while at Huntington College in Alabama, joining the civil rights movement and later becoming the first white secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Zellner chronicled his growing social awareness and his experiences in the movement, including numerous marches and sit-ins, as well as his encounter with many key figures of the Civil Rights era, in his memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, available in hardcover and ebook.

In a video on the TIME website, Zellner relates the violence he witnessed during his time with SNCC, including violence directed against himself. “In the first thirty-six months of my work with SNCC,” Zellner said, “five of my colleagues were lynched … by racists. I was beaten so severely … that I have suffered some brain damage and also post-traumatic stress.”

On one particular occasion, Zellner marched with some high school students protesting the murder of Herbert Lee, who was killed after helping African Americans register to vote. A mob formed around the group. Zellner recalled, “The violence was so awful. They had hangmans ropes and they stopped us at the city hall … A small group of klansmen surrounded me and began to hit me.” As the mob grew, Zellner had to cling to a railing so as not to be pulled into the crowd and lynched, while one of his attackers tried to gouge out his eye.

“A white southerner was not supposed to step out of line,” Zeller told TIME, “because we were supposed to accept segregation and accept it happily. But if you didn’t, you could lose your sight, you could lose your life.”

Watch Bob Zellner’s “One Dream” video, or visit the TIME Magazine “One Dream” website.

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob Zellner is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.