James A. Zellner Papers, 1944-1983


Summary Information
Title: James A. Zellner Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1944-1983

Creator:
  • Zellner, James A., 1912-1996
Call Number: Mss 1027; M2007-085

Quantity: 4.0 c.f. (4 record center cartons); plus additions of 0.8 c.f.

Repository:
Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)

Abstract:
Papers, 1944-1983, of James A. Zellner, a Southern Methodist minister, civil rights advocate, and member of the Board of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). Reverend Zellner served as a minister in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church from 1941 until his retirement in the 1970s. The papers document Zellner's career, support for racial integration, and his role in the civil rights struggle, mainly through writings and correspondence, from 1961 to 1971. It also documents early protest activities and the imprisonment of his son and civil rights activist, Bob Zellner.

Language: English

URL to cite for this finding aid: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/wiarchives.uw-whs-mss01027
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Arrangement of the Materials

This collection was received in multiple parts from the donor(s) and is organized into 2 major parts. These materials have not been physically interfiled and researchers might need to consult more than one part to locate similar materials.

Biography/History

The Reverend James Abraham Zellner was born in Brunswick, Georgia, on June 5, 1912, the son of James Otis Zellner, also a minister, and Bessie Zellner. Before James was seven years old the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Zellner attended Bob Jones College, and in December 1935, married Ruby Hardy, an alumna of the same college, at a ceremony officiated by Bob Jones. Ruby and James were the parents of five sons, James Hubert, John Robert (Bob), Richard Douglas, David Otis, and Malcolm Carey.

Reverend Zellner served as a minister in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church from 1941 until his retirement in the 1970s. Although Zellner began his career as a self-described political conservative and religious fundamentalist, he eventually found that his reading of the Bible required a liberal world view. In the 1940s, he was part of a group of young ministers who attempted to get liberal representation on the overwhelmingly conservative Alabama-West Florida Conference council. In the late 1950s, Zellner and a small group of liberal Methodist ministers began to discuss the possibility of becoming more actively involved with the civil rights movement. During the 1950s, he was also involved with the Alabama Council on Human Relations, an organization that advocated racial integration. In the early 1960s Zellner's son Bob became involved in civil rights protests. Reverend Zellner differed somewhat from Bob in that while he believed strongly in racial equality, he was also suspicious that Communists might be using the civil rights movement for their own purposes. Zellner contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to declare his willingness to provide the agency with any information about this Communist influence in the movement that he might find.

Because of his liberal racial views and associations, Zellner was forced from several of his ministerial posts by conservatives, and as a result he eventually served nine churches in Alabama and Florida. Zellner's major civil rights affiliation was with the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). In 1963, Zellner was nominated to the board of directors of SCEF by the Bishop Edgar A. Love, and in 1966 he served on the organization's nominating committee. He continued this affiliation with SCEF until the early 1980s. Zellner also maintained an association with an informal group of liberal Methodist ministers variously referred to in the papers as “Operation Support,” the “Briar Patch,” and the “Gadflies.” These men shared similar beliefs and several faced similar opposition from conservative parishioners and anti-communist watchdogs.

Zellner retired from the ministry in the mid-1970s and died in 1996.

Related Material

Robert Zellner's papers are also held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Acquisition Information

Presented by Malcolm Zellner, Dalphne, Alabama. Accession Number: M2007-007, M2007-085


Processing Information

Processed by L. Kris Bronstad (Practicum student), 2007.


Contents List
Mss 1027
Part 1 (Mss 1027): Original Collection, 1944-1979
Physical Description: 4.0 c.f. (4 record center cartons) 
Scope and Content Note

The materials in this collection date roughly from 1944 to 1979, with the bulk of the papers dating between 1961 and 1971, a period of radical change in race relations in the South. The collection is divided into three series: GENERAL SUBJECT FILES, BOB ZELLNER FILES, and WRITINGS.

The major subject documented in the collection is James Zellner's role in the civil rights struggle, both as a liberal, white Southern minister and as the father of a prominent civil rights activist. Although Zellner was involved with various liberal religious efforts beginning in the 1940s, the documentation about this aspect of his career is spotty and incomplete. Through the writings and manuscripts in the papers, the collection offers some insights into the transformation of his religious and social beliefs. Unfortunately, because most of the writings are handwritten, fragmentary, and undated drafts rather than complete manuscripts, this evolution in his beliefs is difficult to trace. There is virtually no expression here of his early fundamentalist beliefs. There is also very little documentation concerning his career after the mid-1970s.

The GENERAL SUBJECT FILES series provides documentation of Zellner's roles as minister, civil rights advocate, concerned patriot, smear campaign victim, and father. Numerous files pertain to the Methodist Church, particularly the Alabama-West Florida Conference and the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Other documented religious organizations include the Methodist Rural Fellowship and the 1947 National Methodist Rural Life Conference. Information on the internal politics of the Methodist Church and its response to the civil rights movement is scattered throughout the series. There is correspondence with individual religious leaders such as Bishop Paul Hardin, Jr., of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Charles F. Golden, and Edgar A. Love and with fellow ministers such as Thomas L. Butts, C C. Garner, and Andrew S. Turnipseed. Butts and Garner were among the members of the group referred to by Zellner as the “Briar Patch,” and several sermons written by Butts on race relations for an unpublished book are included. Among the other documented religious organizations is the Alabama Council of Churches. There are also files on several congregations that Zellner served, particularly the Valparaiso Community Church in Valparaiso, Florida, but none of these files contain substantial quantities of documentation. The Valparaiso folder and one on the Circuit Riders, a conservative Methodist organization, contain information about the smear attacks to which Zellner was subjected.

As donated, the files on the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) comprised one of the largest portions of the collection. However, these files duplicated organizational records in the Anne and Carl Braden Papers also held by the Historical Society, and as the result, they have been extensively weeded. A slim folder of family correspondence contains letters exchanged with members of the family, primarily Bob and Bob's first wife, Dorothy.

The BOB ZELLNER series provides the most detailed and organized documentation in the collection. This series consists of correspondence, print materials, notes, and legal documents dating from 1961 to 1965, and it concerns the legal issues that arose from Bob's participation in several demonstrations and Reverend Zellner's involvement in Bob's situation. The elder Zellner is documented by extensive correspondence with officials at Huntingdon College, James Forman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the attorneys who represented Bob, and Bob himself. Of special note are the letters to Bob and from Dottie while Bob was in jail.

The collection includes a large body of Reverend Zellner's WRITINGS. Unfortunately, as previously noted, this material is difficult to interpret. Very few manuscripts are dated, titled, or complete, with the majority consisting only of handwritten drafts and fragments. In many cases it is difficult to determine if a piece was intended as a sermon or as secular writing. This is true even for the sometimes satiric letters addressed to God, the Devil, the Apostle Paul, other Biblical figures, and to the space alien Zobeneau. Some pieces in this section of the collection were probably not meant as writings of any kind, but rather as personal reminders or as a way of getting ideas on paper for later use. Further complicating interpretation of the writings is the fact that Zellner repeated many themes and topics. There are, for example, numerous draft fragments of the beginning of a proposed book tentatively entitled My Story, which concerned his personal religious study and reflections. To the extent that was possible, the writings have been sorted by subject, genre, or final product. The major work filed here is a copy of Making Methodism Methodist, written by Zellner and five of his liberal colleagues and “Briar Patch” associates.

Series: General Subject Files
Box   1
Folder   1
Biographical information
Box   1
Folder   2
Alabama Council of Churches, 1961-1962
Box   1
Folder   3
Alabama Council on Human Relations, 1959-1962
Box   1
Folder   4
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Box   1
Folder   5
Baldwin County Inter-racial Committee, 1950
Box   1
Folder   6
Birmingham Southern College, 1963
Box   1
Folder   7
“Briar Patch,” 1959-1966
Box   1
Folder   8
Butts, T.L.
Box   1
Folder   9
Calendar, 1964
Box   1
Folder   10
Church appointments, 1960-1966
Box   1
Folder   11
Circuit Riders, 1956-1958
Box   1
Folder   12
Commission on Public Relations and Methodist Information
Box   1
Folder   13
Communist materials, 1960-1962
Box   1
Folder   14
Crab Apple Ridge Hunting Club, 1972-1976
Box   1
Folder   15
Daphne Methodist Church, 1950-1951
Box   1
Folder   16
Dissident pronouncements on the part of churches, 1963-1964
Box   1
Folder   17
Garner, C.C., 1946-1947, 1963
Box   1
Folder   18
General, 1962-1976
Box   1
Folder   19
Golden, Bishop Charles, 1963-1964
Box   1
Folder   20
Government officials correspondence, 1961-1963
Box   1
Folder   21
Government Street Methodist Church, Mobile, History by A.S. Turnipseed, 1976
Box   1
Folder   22
Hardin, Bishop Paul, 1962-1964
Box   1
Folder   23
Harrell, Bishop Costen J. (regarding Turnipseed appointment), 1945
Box   1
Folder   24
Highlander Center, 1957-1963
Box   1
Folder   25
Ledger, Reference and church notes
Box   1
Folder   26
Methodist Church, Miscellaneous materials
Box   1
Folder   27
Methodist Federation for Social Action, Alabama Conference, 1946-1947
Box   1
Folder   28
Methodist Layman's Union, 1954-1961
Box   1
Folder   29
Methodist Rural Life Fellowship, 1944-1949
Box   1
Folder   30
Miscellaneous correspondence
Box   1
Folder   31
National Methodist Rural Life Conference, 1947
Box   1
Folder   32
Operation Support, 1963
Box   1
Folder   33
Pastor article response, 1947
Box   1
Folder   34
Proof of patriotic loyalty, 1961-1967
Box   1
Folder   35
Race relations sermons by others, 1963
Box   1
Folder   36
Religious materials, 1950-1979
Box   1
Folder   37
Right wing research
Box   1
Folder   38
Smear campaign, 1963-1965
Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF)
Box   1
Folder   39
Board materials, 1963-1966
Box   1
Folder   40-41
Correspondence, 1961-1970
Box   1
Folder   42
General materials, 1962-1965
Box   1
Folder   43
[Folder # not used]
Box   1
Folder   44
Valparaiso Community Church, 1960-1966
Box   1
Folder   45
Whitsett, Daniel C.
Box   1
Folder   46
Zellner article correspondence, 1962
Box   1
Folder   47
Zellner family correspondence
Box   1
Folder   48
Zellner, Richard, paper
Box   1
Folder   49
Zellner, Ruby
Series: Bob Zellner Files
Box   2
Folder   1
Appeal materials, 1960-1961
Box   2
Folder   2
Baton Rouge notes
Box   2
Folder   3
Character witness correspondence and materials, 1963
Box   2
Folder   4
Commission on Higher Education correspondence, 1961
Huntingdon College
Box   2
Folder   5
General, 1960-1961
Box   2
Folder   6
Correspondence, 1960-1963
Box   2
Folder   7
Notes, 1961-1963
Box   2
Folder   8
Jail correspondence, 1961-1963
Box   2
Folder   9
Lake Junaluska project, 1962
Box   2
Folder   10
Correspondence with lawyers, 1961-1962
McComb, Mississippi
Box   2
Folder   11
Clippings, 1961
Box   2
Folder   12
Confidential memos, 1961
Box   2
Folder   13
Correspondence
Box   2
Folder   14-15
Notes, 1961
Box   2
Folder   16
Mobile hearing notes, 1960-1961
Series: Writings
Box   2
Folder   17
General writing plans, philosophy
Box   2
Folder   18
Aesop
Box   2
Folder   19
Agitators
Box   2
Folder   20
Biblical passages on segregation notebook
Box   2
Folder   21
Bigotry
Box   2
Folder   22
Book notes, 1966
Box   2
Folder   23
Brimstone Curtain
Box   2
Folder   24
“Christianity and the Crisis of World Revolution”
Box   2
Folder   25
Civil rights drafts
Box   2
Folder   26
“Civil Rights are Moral Rights”
Box   2
Folder   27
Communism, Drafts regarding
Box   2
Folder   28
“Cosmic Humanism”
Box   2
Folder   29
Digest Bible
Box   2
Folder   30
“Fleeing from Lions” sermon
Box   2
Folder   31
Gadfly piece
Box   2
Folder   32
“Gadfly Pulpit”
Box   3
Folder   1
King, Martin Luther
Box   3
Folder   2
“Language of the People”
Box   3
Folder   3
Law and order
Box   3
Folder   4
“Letters from the Dead”
Box   3
Folder   5
Letters to “Dear Fellows”/individuals with Biblical names
Box   3
Folder   6
Letters to the Editor and editorials
Box   3
Folder   7
“Letters to God”
Box   3
Folder   8
“Letters from Hell”
Box   3
Folder   9
Letters to Lucifer
Box   3
Folder   10
Letters to Sam
Box   3
Folder   11
“Liberal Dilemma,” 1969
Box   3
Folder   12
Making Methodism Methodist, 1947
Box   3
Folder   13
“Methodist Minister & his Relationships”
Box   3
Folder   14
Moderates
Box   3
Folder   15
“My Story,” proposed book
Box   3
Folder   16
New Testament scriptures regarding segregation
Box   3
Folder   17
Notebook
Box   3
Folder   18
Operation Sermon
Box   3
Folder   19
Paul
Box   3
Folder   20
“Pen Point Papers”
Box   3
Folder   21
Personal statements, 1965, undated
Box   3
Folder   22
Pulpit book
Box   3
Folder   23
“Reaction to Reform”
Box   3
Folder   24
“Recreation for Rural Church”
Box   3
Folder   25
Releases
Box   3
Folder   26-27
“Satan and God's Meetings,” Proposed book, 1977-1978
Box   3
Folder   28
Scriptural questions
Box   3
Folder   29
Segregation
Box   3
Folder   30
Sermon notes
Box   3
Folder   31
Sermon on the Mount
Box   3
Folder   32
“Six Basic Propositions”
Box   3
Folder   33
“Southern Churchman and his Box”
Box   3
Folder   34
“ A Southerner Lays Out Some Guidelines for Those Who Wish to Think for Themselves on the Race Issue,” undated
Box   3
Folder   35
Study of the Pattern (Jesus notebook)
Box   3
Folder   36
Training proposal
Box   3
Folder   37
Vietnam drafts
Box   3
Folder   38
“Wind and Whirlwind”
Box   3
Folder   39
Young people
Box   4
Folder   1-2
Zeelzebub
Box   4
Folder   3
Zellner, Bob
Box   4
Folder   4-5
Zobeneau
Box   4
Folder   6-19
Miscellaneous draft pages
M2007-085
Part 2 (M2007-085): Additions, 1944-1983
Physical Description: 0.8 c.f. (3 archives boxes) 
Scope and Content Note: Additions, 1944-1983 (bulk 1940s), documenting Zellner's concerns about the rural church in the South, including its future and its involvement in issues of social justice. Included are correspondence, church-related materials, and Zellner's own writings. Also documented are organizations and conferences related to the rural church in which Zellner participated, such as the Alabama Conference (1943-1948), the Methodist Rural Fellowship (1946-1949), the Methodist Rural Life Conference (1947), and the Town and Country Church Commission (1944-1946).
Organizational and Subject Files
Box   1
Folder   1-2
Correspondence
Box   2
Folder   1
Correspondence (continued)
Box   1
Folder   3-4
Alabama Conference, 1943-1948
Box   1
Folder   5-6
Church-Related
Box   1
Folder   7
Methodist Rural Fellowship, 1946-1949
Box   1
Folder   8-10
Methodist Rural Life Conference, 1947
Box   2
Folder   2
Methodist Rural Life Conference, 1947 (continued)
Box   1
Folder   11
Miscellaneous Notes
Box   1
Folder   12
NAIRO (National Association of Intergroup Relations Officials), 1963-1964
Box   2
Folder   3
Proposals, 1945-1946
Box   2
Folder   4
Research, 1944-1960
Box   3
Folder   1
Sermon Materials
Box   1
Folder   13
Town and Country Church Commission, 1944-1946
Box   3
Folder   2
Town and Country Church Commission, 1945-1949
Writings
Box   1
Folder   14
“Communism and the Civil Rights Struggle” - Zellner
Box   1
Folder   15
“Concentrated Evangelism” - Zellner
Box   3
Folder   3
“Methodist Ministry and the Representative Philosophy” - Zellner
Box   1
Folder   16
Zobeneau drafts - Zellner
Box   1
Folder   17
Miscellaneous writings