1967: Bob Zellner's Grass Roots Organizing Work Project (GROW) rejected by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Charles Marsh: When you, they asked you to leave after presenting your proposal?

Bob Zellner: While they discussed it.

CM: Where'd you go?

BZ: I just went to another room and there was sort of a shuttle diplomacy that developed. Foreman would come and talk to me and go and talk to them and so...

CM: You were there for what, an hour, hour and a half?

BZ: Probably several hours.

CM: You were just sitting around smoking, drinking coffee?

BZ: Yeah, and they would meet for a while, and they would come, they would bring proposals, because I had made the, it was the GROW project proposal that I had made to them …

CM: That you were gonna take to New Orleans, that you were gonna base in New Orleans.

BZ: Yeah. And I said, "I'm not going to do this if I can do this as a SNCC person, if we can do this as a SNCC project, this is something we are going to do anyway." But I said, part of my argument was that there, it's a at least arguable that you can organize black people as black people but you can't organize white people as white people, It'd automatically be a racist structure, racist organization. White people have to be organized in conjunction with black people. And the best people that are able to do that are SNCC people with the experience we have. And so it's not a question of, I will do this if I can do this if it's a SNCC project. It's what we're gonna do anyway, we just think it should be a SNCC project. So then they said, we don't want you to go off staff altogether, but we can develop some kind of relationship where you can be on staff but not come to meetings. And I said, well, no we can't do that, because SNCC has never required second class citizenship of anybody, and we can't start now. Can't do that. So then the next proposal, they said, come to meetings but don't vote. And i said, well, that's basically the same thing, a second class citizenship. And I said, if I'm on staff, I will come to meetings, and if I come to meetings, I will vote like anybody else. I said, you guys have to make the decision, the decision is not on my part, because I know that we're going to do this organizing project. And I just think that it should be done and it has to be done and I think it's a mistake not to see that we can work together.

CM: And…

BZ: I was pretty sure what the result was going to be.

CM: Because of the Pegleg Bates …

BZ: Yeah. the whole fall was in the direction of black nationalism and black power, And it would have interrupted that entire, the whole weight of things was going in that direction. And the only reason that they even hesitated at all in terms of Dottie and myself was that we'd been there so long and ... And they did know that they had told us that we had to go organize in the white community. And they probably had an inkling that we would be able to do something significant. And they really, there were some people who really wanted us to stick it out. Later on, Foreman said that I'd pressed the issue. But I didn't press the issue.

CM: Now, looking back on that in 1997, you see a certain inevitability in that decision in May of 1967.

BZ: Oh yeah, and I think that given the... it's ironic now, and I usually point out when I talk about it that as SNCC was going from an inclusive position to an exclusive position that people like Malcolm X were moving from an exclusive to an inclusive, and even, see I think the Panthers had a pretty good view of white radicals. And that was if we're revolutionaries together, we don't have to be in the same organization, but we could work closely together. But SNCC, what happened with the SNCC people, was Foreman and few other people were the people that helped us with the GROW project. By and large, could be because they were so preoccupied with the turmoil inside the organization, because things were falling apart, that we didn't get ... but we didn't get a lot of help from the black staff people on the GROW project. Even though they knew, I guess they knew we were going ahead with it. We worked on it for almost a dozen years after that.

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