Bob Zellner & Julian Bond Speak at St. Paul's, Concord, NH, July 2008
Two icons of the American Civil Rights Movement met with and spoke to students at St. Paul's School Advanced Studies Program on Tuesday, narrating a part of history that they said is still unfolding today.
Julian Bond, who now serves as chairman of the NAACP, and scholar Bob Zellner, who remains active in the struggle for civil rights, began their day at ASP with a visit to teacher Mike Stevens' Changing the World class, which explores movements for social change in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the afternoon, introduced by Stevens, Bond and Zellner spoke to the entire ASP community in Memorial Hall, where they recounted their stories of joining the civil rights struggle.
While a student at Morehouse College in 1960, following the example of the black men conducting the sit-in at the segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., Bond and other African-Americans appeared at the Atlanta City Hall cafeteria, were refused seating and were finally escorted to the city jail. This action began a career of fighting injustice through nonviolent means, at the side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to the present day.
Bond went on to become a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, he was not allowed to sit in that body because of his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War â€“ a move that was eventually ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court. He became chairman of the board of the NAACP in 1998. In 2002, he received the National Freedom Award.
Bond closed by asking students to recall Coretta Scott King's reminder that her husband did not die so that others can have a holiday in January. "Instead," he said, "we should have a day on, doing on his birthday and every other day of the year the things you think he would have done if he was still here."
Zellner told his own story of joining the struggle for human rights, explaining that he was born in L.A. â€“ Lower Alabama â€“ and that his father and grandfather had been members of the Ku Klux Klan â€“ "and so it was very unlikely that I would become involved in the Civil Rights Movement." (His father later left the Klan and joined the movement.)
As a sociology student studying race relations at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., he and his classmates told their professor they planned to attend a rally featuring King and Rosa Parks, who had sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. The professor ordered them not to go because they would be arrested â€“ a warning that only encouraged them. When they met King before the event, he told the students they were welcome to attend but that they would likely be arrested. When apprehension seemed imminent, Parks helped them escape out a back door, but she told Zellner, "Bob, when you see something wrong, you're eventually going to have to do something."
Zellner's subsequent and passionate involvement in civil rights has been based on that advice, he said, pointing out that King and Parks were not "Saint Martin" and "Mother Teresa," but real people. Zellner told his audience about other experiences as the first white Southerner field operative for SNCC, including a frightening tale of being assaulted in McComb, Miss., during the organization's first voter registration drive there in the 1960s.
Still active and prominent in civil rights, Zellner is the author of the forthcoming book The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement.
Answering questions at the close of their presentations, Bond and Zellner advised students and others in the audience about their responsibility in society. "Each of us has to find a way to become engaged in the community where we live," Bond said, "and to make a contribution to improve that community."
"One good thing we can do is to take a risk," Zellner pointed out. "Martin Luther King said if you can't find something you would die for you've got nothing to live for. Can you imagine a nonviolent army of young people and their supporters going to Darfur and saying, â€˜Stop this!'"?