1967: White Radicals partner with former Klansmen to take down the Klu Klux Klan -- The GROW Project
Charles Marsh: What project was this?
Bob Zellner: This was the GROW project.
CM: What does that stand for again?
BZ: Grass Roots Organizing Work. And we also called it Get Rid Of Wallace.
CM: But you were doing some of this in Mississippi, too …
BZ: In Mississippi, yeah, a lot of this was done in Mississippi and this was after I was off the staff of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], after '67. but they don't have, there's a little bit of a sense of wonder there of how these Klansmen and the movement people were getting together. And…
CM: White [Civil Rights] Movement people?
BZ: Yeah, white movement people. Even, we even had some black movement people-sort of getting together with them. And they [the government???] can't quite figure out how we can make this alliance:. Because... And they're sort of. .. they're not really even handed. They deal with the Klan and stuff like that. But they see the Klan as sort of the enemy as well. They see the movement activists as the enemy and the Klan as the enemy as well.
CM: Because the Klan… this is '67-68, yeah. Well, by '67, too, most white conservatives were ready to see the Klan put out of business.
BZ: ...we recruited a lot of the Klanspeople. They would show me their arsenals and everything, they would say, "Yeah, I've been a Klansman all this time and now I've joined the Civil Rights Movement."
CM: And why, what were they seeing in the Civil Rights Movement that appealed to them? Because in Laurel in '67 there were labor tensions mounting at Masonite. And a lot of that was racial because blacks wanted to eliminate labor inequities and so forth.
BZ: It was a very sticky situation to get into, and the GROW project got into it with all 4 feet.
CM: But what did the Klansmen see in your organization?
BZ: What they would see is first of all, we developed a couple of ideas, a couple of theories that would help us do the organizing, And one was that we were going to approach white southerners, primarily working class white southerners. And also poor whites in the south on the basis of their material condition. Not on a basis of making a moral argument about the movement, that if they were in a union ad the union was under fire, as the union was in Laurel, then they had to give up some of the racist practices that they'd had in the past. So we had several ideas. One is that there's a hierarchy of values among white southerners, and racism is seldom at the very top. The only people that would be true for would be the Klan and the ideological, the real terrorists. And we even focused on them and turned a lot of em and they ended up going into the movement. So we said, OK, there are certain things they value more than racism. And maybe they won't give up their feelings, their ideas on racism, but maybe they will change their behavior. So what we thought was that once they got into Working in conjunction with black people, some common projects, some common ground, as Jesse would say, then they're going to change their behavior, and eventually we thought if the behavior changed then the ideas and the rhetoric would be the last thing, the very last thing to change.