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Snow Doesn’t Deter Fans Of Civil Rights Legend, Activist Bob Zellner

Originally Posted: January 14, 2009

Edward Callaghan

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Sitting by the fire in a comfortable wing chair, Zellner spoke of his long-time commitment to civil rights going back to his years as a student volunteer with Dr. Martin Luther King, documented in his best selling autobiography, "The Wrong Side of Murder Creek." Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - Despite the snow and treacherous road conditions on Saturday, friends and fans of local civil rights activist and author Bob Zellner filled the spacious living room of Jim and Kathleen Schwartz in their North Sea home. The couple, along with their good friends Linda Romanelli-Leahy and Rob Leahy co-hosted an intimate evening with the noted author who addressed his long-standing commitment to social justice and his estimation of what the future holds with the upcoming inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama.

Kathleen Schwartz, Matthew Helmsteadt, Jim Schwartz, Pamela Harris, and Lorry
Werner braved the elements to speak with Zellner.

Sitting by the fire in a comfortable wing chair, Zellner spoke of his long-time commitment to civil rights going back to his years as a student volunteer with Dr. Martin Luther King, documented in his best selling autobiography, "The Wrong Side of Murder Creek." The son and grandson of former Ku Klux Klansmen, Zellner seems an unlikely candidate to become a founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, SNCC or "Snick" as it was called.

SNCC played a major role in the sit-ins and Freedom Rides, which was one of the principal organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement. Back in April 1960, from student meetings led by Ella Baker held in Raleigh, NC, SNCC grew into a large organization with many supporters in the North who helped raise funds to support SNCC's work.

It played a leading role in the 1963 historic March On Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom democratic party. SNCC's major contribution was in its field work, organizing voter registration drives all over the south, especially in Georgia and Mississippi - and Zellner was there.

Not wanting to dwell on the past but recognizing the importance of an historical perspective, Zellner noted that "Barack Obama popularized the idea of non-violent politics" which he believes came to the forefront with "the young people's response to the devastation of Katrina in New Orleans." Continuing he stated, "Thousands of our young citizens participated in the greatest non-violent political campaign the world has ever seen." But he cautioned the audience, which included a number of the town's political leaders, that they must "keep the heat on the people they elected - even Obama himself."

Speaking on a local level, he expressed his fear concerning incidents of racism that have become too prevalent on Long Island - in particular the racially-linked murder of Marcello Lucero in Patchogue which is now under federal investigation.

Bob Zellner with his most ardent supporter, wife Linda Miller Zellner, share
a lighthearted moment.

Zellner did single out Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley and activist Joseph Giannini, founder of East End Veterans Against the War, for praise for their community involvement and response to heightened awareness.

Following his remarks and an enlightening question and answer session, guests empowered by the soft but powerful speaker, then splintered off into small groups to share thoughts in lively discussion.

Among those who braved the elements for one of the season's most thought-provoking parties were newly elected chair of the Southampton Town Democratic Committee Gordon Herr, Carolyn Chichester, Pamela Harris, Elizabeth and Olivia Koti, Peggy Kerry, Lisa Votino-Tarrant, LeeAnn and Jean Vautrin-Gardinier, Kevin Johnson and George Antilla, Larry McCue, and Mark Levy who drove in from Montauk as he didn't want to miss the opportunity of "meeting a living legend."

The celebratory evening wasn't all about politics, there were toasts to birthday boy Kevin Johnson and to Donna McCue on the launch of her new candy line. There was also much sharing of where folks were gathering to mark the historic inaugural event on Jan. 20.

As for Zellner and his wife Linda, they're Washington, DC bound. Bob told us he has two reasons for making the trip, "I want to commune with my fellow workers from the movement days and I want to be there to see the country, and especially young people, truly embrace a new era of non-violent politics."


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Guest (Retha Barrentine Mancil) from Dothan, Alabama says::
I have know Bob since he was in the 8th grade in East Brewton, Alabama. Bob, I am continuing to follow your life with much anticipation of the upcoming film, Son of The South.
Jan 7, 2010 2:53 pm

Guest (clyde winter) from grafton, wisconsin says::
I would like to hear from anyone who knew and worked with Harriette Parker during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Especially during the voter registration projects in Mississippi, and in Jackson. See some of my published articles at . Thank you Bob, for your courage and for your continued important work. Please contact me at ucamp@earthlink.net
Feb 9, 2009 1:40 pm


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