LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Long time civil rights activist Bob Zellner was the guest speaker at the Cameron University's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day banquet Monday night. Before Zellner spoke about his journey from being the son of a Klansman to being one of the first white southerners to join the civil rights movement, he invited everyone to join him in singing a 'movement song.' Zellner's message was to use MLK Day not only as a day to remember the history of the civil rights movement, but also to look at the issues of prejudice that still exist.
Zellner's family was in the KKK so he was surrounded by prejudice growing up in Alabama. In college, his interest in civil rights grew with a class assignment about racism that required him to interview important figures in the civil rights movement.
"And that's why Rosa Parks said to me, 'When you see something wrong you can't just keep studying it in your sociology class. You have to take action. You have to take a risk,'" said Zellner.
Zellner, who has been fighting for equal rights for more than half a century, described one of his first threats of violence he had while helping African Americans register to vote in Mississippi.
"They took me out to a tree with a rope, and they took some other people out also," said Zellner. "They said we're going to hang you from this rope to that limb, and I thought that was my last day on earth."
In addition to his brush with death, Zellner has been arrested 18 times. Even at the age of 74 for participating in a protest in 2013 against North Carolina's restrictions to voting access.
"It's very, very important that we lift our heads and take action at this time of peril," said Zellner. "When people want to have religious tests, they want to be anti-immigrant, they want to be anti-Muslim and that's not American. It's un-American."
Zellner says the fight isn't over.
"Today when we are faced with this new terror," said Zellner. "We have to be the same way that we were in those days. Martin Luther king and the SNCC people going to the worse places. We have to go to the worse places now. We have to confront Trump and other people that want to take us in a backwards direction, and say you can't go that way. Our power is stronger than your power."
Zellner says he and other civil rights groups are planning to carry on the Poor People's Campaign this year. It was originally started by Dr. King right before his assassination in 1968. The campaign focuses on the idea that all people should have what they need to live, and give people living below the poverty line a voice.
Zellner says his memoir, called 'The Wrong Side of Murder Creek' is on its way to becoming a movie about growing up in the South during the freedom movement.