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Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Dorothy Miller Zellner

Dorothy Miller Zellner
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Dorothy "Dottie" Miller (Zellner), who lost her shoes to high-pressure hoses after being clubbed during a demonstration in Danville, Virginia, gives an affidavit to James Forman, SNCC executive secretary.
Magnum Photos, Inc. c1963 Danny Lyons.

Biography

Dorothy Miller Zellner was born in 1938 in Manhattan. A red-diaper baby attuned to world events, Dorothy was looking for a way to connect with the emerging civil rights movement as she graduated from college in 1960. That summer, she seized an opportunity to go south with Congress of Racial Equality for training in non-violent resistance. Miller went to Miami with 35 community leaders and was arrested immediately in a demonstration.

In the segregated jails, Miller (the only white woman civil rights worker in the project) did her time with l2 white women criminals. Miller felt she was finally in the right place. Though it "was very nerve-wracking and scary," Miller also participated in the sit-ins in New Orleans. In June of 1961, Professor James A. Moss from the Southern Regional Council offered her a research job and she went to Atlanta. In the fall, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Executive Secretary James Forman snatched her up and asked her to volunteer for SNCC at night. In the winter of 1962, he asked her to work with Julian Bond on SNCC's newspaper, The Student Voice. This newspaper, in the early 1960s, built community and morale within the movement's widely dispersed field workers and supporters. It also was one of the few publications reporting on the level of daily violence committed against southern Blacks and movement workers. Miller also became involved in public relations outreach. Her effective representation of movement work, designed to elicit legal, moral, and financial support, enabled SNCC to rise to national prominence. Married to SNCC's first white field secretary, Bob Zellner, Dottie joined him in the Boston SNCC office, where she raised funds and helped send food and clothing to Mississippi. She also worked with Kay Clark (Professor Kenneth Clark's daughter) to screen volunteers for the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

The Zellners returned to Greenwood, Mississippi during that summer and subsequently to the Atlanta SNCC office. Facing the tensions arising from Black nationalism in SNCC, the Zellners moved to New Orleans to work with the Southern Conference Educational Fund after SNCC rejected their proposal that they remain affiliated with SNCC while organizing in the white community. While raising her two daughters, Dottie worked as a practical nurse.

In 1984, Dottie returned to New York where she got a job at the Center for Constitutional Rights. During her time at CCR, one of her projects was coordinating the Ella Baker Law Students Internship Program for students of color. Since 1998, she has served as director of publications and development for the City University of New York's Law School at Queens College.

Interview

Harriet Tanzman spent a year working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Selma, Alabama where she was completely devoted to her literacy work.

So much of myself was put into the work thatÂ…it was enormously emotionally satisfying. It was incredibly satisfying. I mean I've never met people quite like some of the people I met in Selma and in the South, and at a certain point there were hundreds of people involved. And you're talking about mass meetings every night of the week. And enormously courageous people of all ages-very little ones to elderly. So for me, I was just always learningÂ… I really had a lot to learn.

Tanzman further describes her experiences as an SCLC worker and the impact it had on her:

Teaching people who knew an enormous amount about survival, about caring, about giving, about seeing old people as neighbors and family, but who didn't have some of the basic skills at all. So I taught but I also taught them to teach. You know, neither of these things did I know how to do beforehand. And I was able to do things that I never knew I could do. I mean it took the best of us, the movement, whether we were eighteen or twenty-five. It empowered our lives. We felt that we could do many things that none of us knew we could do before. And we were always surrounded by many role models.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Dorothy Miller Zellner." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/discover/infocus/civilrights/zellner>.