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Black Studies Lecture to Feature Civil Rights Experts PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Contact Tearanny Street, 601.266.6823   

The University of Southern Mississippi Center for Black Studies will present a groundbreaking lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 9 that serves as a living testimony to the importance of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds.

The presentation titled, “Civil Rights and Black Power: The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party” will be held at 6 p.m. in the Polymer Science Auditorium of the Shelby Freland Thames Polymer Science Research Center on the Hattiesburg campus.

The lecture features two men who chose very different paths to overcoming injustice in the black freedom struggle of the 1960s. Dr. Bob Zellner, civil rights scholar and Harold Taylor, former member of the Black Panther Party, will offer their insights on that tumultuous period in U.S. history.

“This presentation will not only be a great benefit for our student body, but also for the community at large,” said Dr. Curtis Austin, director of the center and professor of history at Southern Miss. “Whether it be due to the financial crisis, health issues, education woes or all the other difficulties we are dealing with as a nation, most Americans are faced with some type of struggle.

“Equally important, as a Black History Month tribute, this event will highlight the legacy of struggle left behind by blacks and whites that were a part of the freedom movement. It will therefore dispel the myth that interracial cooperation is an impossible accomplishment. This is something from which every Mississippian can benefit.”

Zellner, who is the son and grandson of Ku Klux Klansmen, will recount his experiences as a white southerner and civil rights activist. He has dedicated his entire life to protesting for equal rights through non-violent change.

“I met Martin Luther King and Ms. Rosa Parks while in college at Huntingdon College, a Methodist school in Montgomery, Alabama,” Zellner said. “They started me on a life of crime and inspired me to join SNCC, as the first white southern Field Secretary.”

SNCC played a major role in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. With support from northerners, members of SNCC were instrumental in freedom rides, sit-ins, the 1963 march on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Entrenched in the movement, Zellner founded Grass Roots Organizing Work (GROW) or Get Rid of Wallace. His journey eventually led him to the Pine Belt where, under his leadership, GROW started the Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association.

“I was arrested in Laurel, (Miss.) because I was a founder of GROW. We were organizing black and white workers at the Masonite plant,” Zellner said.

GROW also started a Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association and built a residential education facility in New Orleans, according to Zellner’s Web site. “In addition to the Laurel jailing, I was arrested 18 times in 7 states,” he said.

Taylor will speak on his experiences in the Black Panther Party. A native of Panama City, Florida, Taylor was arrested in Florida on Jan. 23, 2007, on charges related to the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer. He, along with seven other former members of the Black Panther Party and supporters, were arrested in cities across the nation on charges related to this crime.

Similar charges were brought against Taylor and two other men in 1973, but were thrown out when evidence revealed the men were forced to confess after undergoing several days of intense torture by New Orleans police. According to the freethesf8.org Web site, the men were exposed to “electric shock, cattle prods, beatings, sensory deprivation, plastic bags and hot, wet blankets for asphyxiation.”

"In 1971, two brothers and I were set up by the FBI. We didn't learn about COINTELPRO until years later,” said Taylor. “In 1973, I was arrested in New Orleans and was beaten and tortured for several days. In 2003, the detectives that were responsible for my torture came to my house to try and question me. I have not been the same since.”

To this date, all charges against Harold Taylor have been dismissed, but not all of the accused men have been cleared. An organization based in Pasadena, Calif., called the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights continues to organize events in support of all the men, who are known today as the San Francisco 8 or SF8. 

Austin feels this event holds significant importance for today’s young people. “As future leaders, they will need to have the benefit of positive historical examples and role models when their turn comes to run the schools, businesses and government agencies that help determine our quality of life,” he said. “Of course, there is never any harm in learning about one’s history and cultural heritage as well.”

The lecture is sponsored in part by the World of Words Humanities Showcase of the Southern Miss College of Arts and Letters. This event is free and open to the public. Immediately following the presentation, Zellner will sign copies of his new book, “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek” at a dessert reception in the foyer of the Shelby Freland Thames Polymer Science Research Center.

Seating is limited. For more information on the lecture, contact 601.266.6973. For more information on Bob Zellner, visit www.bobzellner.com and www.freethesf8.org for more information on Harold Taylor and the SF8.


PHOTO: Bob Zellner


PHOTO: Harold Taylor

About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu
                                                                                 
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