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The Wrong Side of Murder Creek

By: Bob Zellner
Reviewed by: Chris Bouier
NewSouth Books, 2008
$27.95, Hardcover

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek is an important book for many reasons. First, it offers the minority perspective of a Caucasian who was intimately involved in the Civil Rights Era of the mid-twentieth century on the frontline: the Deep South. The significance of this perspective cannot be overstated. Although the vanguard of the movement was African-American, its universal relevance is starkly illustrated by those who could have found their niche in the dominant social hierarchy yet chose to cast their lot with said vanguard for the sake of all who found themselves disenfranchised by the extant power structure.

Secondly, Zellner draws attention to certain aspects of this struggle that are too often glossed over by other raconteurs of the era such as the fact that there was no more a singular “movement” than there was a monolithic “establishment.” He recounts how each was comprised of groups and subgroups that formed a complex dynamic of earnestness and hypocrisy on both sides. As one follows his narrative one can discern how the prevailing social structure’s intractability helped shatter the overt racial divide birthing the myriad subtle divides which remain with us today. One can also see how the fervor and explosive growth of the “revolution” ultimately sowed the seeds of its idealistic fatigue. It became fractured and was ultimately subsumed by the dominant social hierarchy as Zellner in his characteristic honesty admits was reflected in his own personal experience as well.

Thirdly, Zellner poignantly portrays the difficulties that he and others experienced dealing with their adopted creed of non-violence. He speaks candidly about the violent tendencies inherent in the southern mindset as well as the spiritual effects and rewards of non-violent discipline. Zellner relates how this conflict and its resolution lay at the heart of the inner struggle of many of those brave souls striving for social change through psychological and spiritual means.

This work will appeal to its readers on many levels in many ways. It will find its place as historical source material, and it possesses the overtones of sociological analysis that will resonate with academics. At the same time its accessible, matter-of-fact style will strike chords within the curious lay-reader seeking to learn more about this definitive period in American history for personal fulfillment and a deeper understanding of how things got to be the way they are today. The Civil Rights Era is perennially relevant, and its story must be continually retold. Bob Zellner has told it in a refreshing manner, and he has told it well.  Oct 2008

Chris Bouier holds a B.S. in general social science from the University of Montevallo and currently resides in the Birmingham area.

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