Dorothy M. Zellner Papers, 1960-1979, 1983

Scope and Content Note

This collection provides a good, but incomplete picture of southern civil rights work during the 1960s and 1970s. Of particular interest also are records concerning grassroots white organizing and labor organizing in the woodcutters industry. The majority of the documentation consists of near-print items dating from the early 1960s through the early 1970s.

After the collection was arranged Dorothy Zellner reviewed the material and selected individual folders that were to be restricted until 2038. These folders are listed in the contents list (along with the designation R by each folder), although they have been removed to separate sealed boxes at the end of the collection.

The PERSONAL PAPERS are primarily comprised of original material created by Dorothy and Robert Zellner, together with a few near-print items. The series includes most of the general correspondence in the collection. Of particular interest in these files are the following: an October 6, 1962 report from Charles Dunlap, Neblett, and O'Neal to James Forman, executive director of SNCC, regarding a selective buying boycott in Cairo, Illinois and Sikeston, Missouri, and a voter registration project in Charleston, Missouri; a mimeographed memo by James A. Zellner (a SCEF board member), prepared October 20-26, 1963, immediately after the Louisiana police raided SCEF's New Orleans office, relating his fears of arrest and his resolution to attend the November 9 SCEF board meeting in Birmingham; a carbon copy of Jack Minnis' December 11, 1963, letter to Leslie W. Dunbar of the Southern Regional Council complaining about his dismissal from the staff of the Voter Education Project; a memo, February 4, 1969, and accompanying letter, February 5, 1969, by Jane McManus about the Masonite boycott; and a memo to the SCEF Interim Committee from Jim Grant, postmarked June 13, 1975, regarding the “present crisis in SCEF” between blacks and whites, the discharge of executive director Walter Collins, and the reaction of the Louisville black community.

Among the other correspondence are many letters from Anne Braden and a few letters from family and friends. Also here are a series of “confidential memoranda” from James Z. Zellner to Robert Zellner (January 1962) discussing Bob's upcoming trial and defense strategies.

Other personal papers include Robert Zellner's autobiographical notes (1964), and incomplete biographical sketch (1963), and two articles about him; contact lists created by both Zellners and fragmentary files containing legal papers, correspondence, and clippings from three lawsuits against Robert Zellner and one lawsuit instituted by Dorothy and others against the New Orleans police chief and the commander of the NOPD intelligence division. The Zellners' writings are represented by two drafts of a position paper about SCEF written by Dorothy, a sociology term paper by Bob, and other writings on the Black Panthers that are probably by the Zellners. Also included are a transcript of Bob Zellner's interview on his China trip in 1972, together with other related items.

The tape recordings include a meeting of poor white people from Sunflower and Bolivar Counties in Mississippi with Zellner, Jack Minnis, and others from GROW in New Orleans in 1968 that concerned grassroots and labor organizing, Head Start, and the labor struggles with Masonite Corporation; an account by Robert Zellner of his early civil rights experiences and role of the Zellners in the formation of GROW; and an analysis of the place of the IWW in the New Left given by Bob Cook at AIM in 1969.

The photographs in the collection include picketing by the Boston Friends of SNCC (probably also portraying Dorothy Zellner as a picketer, pushing a baby stroller) in 1965; unidentified civil rights rallies and meetings (many dating from 1962); and other photographs concerning labor organizing in the South.

RECORDS OF ORGANIZATIONS AND OTHER MATERIALS mainly include items collected by the Zellners during their work with SCEF and SNCC. While there are sizable files on both organizations, most of the documentation is near-print material that was intended for wide distribution; few unique papers are included. (Original letters to and from these groups have been filed with the General Correspondence.) From these and other civil rights, anti-war, feminist, and labor groups there are flyers, brochures, pamphlets, press releases, membership solicitations, conference papers, clippings, and occasional notes and letters, all of which were collected by the Zellners.

Records of the Zellners' work with the Southern Conference Educational Fund, include a lengthy run of minutes of meetings of SCEF's Interim Committee, general staff meetings, and board meetings, with a variety of reports, treasurer's financial reports, committee papers, and other materials considered at the meetings; scattered “News from SCEF” press releases; staff and internal newsletters, 1967-1972; and two draft histories of SCEF, one covering the period 1938 to 1963 and the second covering the period 1964 to 1973. There is also a long report by Joe Hoban to the staff discussing his views of SCEF work.

In the late 1960s the Zellners established the Grass-Roots Organizing Work project under SCEF auspices. Aimed at poor white people in the South, GROW proposed to “win white people away from the destructive and dead-end philosophy of racism and help them organize for the building of a democratic South.” Records of GROW, which the Zellners ran from a New Orleans headquarters, are rather scattered, but include correspondence between Robert Zellner and Mervin Harris, 1968-1969; prospectuses, reports, and statements; and two near-print publications “The Lessons of Laurel: Grass-Roots Organizing in the South,” and “A New Movement in the White South.” There is also a proposal to foster grass root organizing in Houston, apparently not written by GROW. GROW and the Zellners did become involved with the lengthy strike of Local 5-443 of the International Woodworkers of America against the Laurel, Mississippi, Masonite Corporation. The collection includes copies of the local's by-laws; an agreement with Masonite (circa 1970); a collective bargaining agreement, 1960; legal papers from two lawsuits concerning the strike; and general material about Masonite Corporation, the union, and the strike. GROW was also apparently involved in the establishment or operation of the Gulfcoast Pulpwood Association, the Woodcutters Mutual Assistance Company Inc., and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association. Gulfcoast Pulpwood Association is best represented by proposals, a statement of purpose, materials from several lawsuits, and near-print pamphlets. For the Woodcutters Mutual Assistance Company Inc. and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Pulpwood Association there are only incorporation papers.

The files concerning the Deep South Education and Research Associates contain organization records of the group illustrating its principles and policies. Included are the initial agreements with its sponsoring group, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization Inc.; articles of incorporation and a draft; correspondence; minutes of a 1967 board meeting with correspondence and resolutions; a proposal to the New York Foundation for the Gulfcoast Pulpwood Association, written by Robert Zellner; a proposal to IFCO for a wood and forest products cooperative; a 1969 report to IFCO; and an application and correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service regarding DSERA's tax -exempt status. There is also a small file about the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, including articles of incorporation; by-laws; reports; funding proposals; a work plan; pamphlet on farming techniques prepared for poor Southern farmers; and a copy of the federation's publication, “Peoples Guide to Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway.”

There are relatively few materials representing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Of greatest interest is the near-print copy of the report of the first meeting of the Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Atlanta, Georgia, May 13-14, 1960 and a mimeographed copy of Tom Hayden's confidential memo regarding the September 14-17 SNCC meeting in Jackson, Mississippi.

Dorothy Zellner's later work with feminist groups is illustrated in the small file of New Orleans Women's Center papers and in the general file of women's and feminist near-print and single sheet items. A small file of clippings and notes date from the period when Bob Zellner worked in Talladega, Alabama, but it is unclear exactly how they relate to his activities. Likewise, there are handwritten field reports of Mississippi white community work in Vicksburg and Jackson in 1970, but precisely how the Zellners were involved with the project is unknown.