Jack Zylman

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Jack Zylman


Rev. Frederick Jackson (Jack) Zylman worked for a progressive congress person and the Congressional Black Caucus. He also helped set up free, 6 year medical school scholarships for 250 black American young people in Cuba. After returning to Alabama, he worked as the Development Director for the community health center there, and is active in peace, civil rights and anti-repression organizing.[1]

In 2010, he won the Fannie Lou Hamer Human Rights Award from the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference.

He died Nov. 13. 2013, age 76.

Background

Zylman was born in Chicago, of Dutch descent, and named Fredrick Jackson Zylman III. He believed that he was named for Stonewall Jackson, and that his ancestors had owned slaves. The family moved to Birmingham when he was two years old.

He graduated from Phillips High School in 1954 and enrolled at Howard College for a year, then transferred to Southwestern College at Memphis. He was in Memphis in 1956 when the bus boycott in Montgomery, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., got his attention.

"In 1956 I drove to Montgomery and met Dr. King and talked to him about the movement," he once told The News in an interview.

Zylman became involved with the Congress of Racial Equality in Memphis. He invited blacks to Southwestern to play a softball game. He received a letter from the college notifying him that he had been suspended, he said. He returned to Birmingham and finished his senior year at Birmingham-Southern College.

He always credited his parents with shaping his values.

"My father, Jack Zylman II, would take $20 every so often and go pay the poll taxes for blacks who wanted to vote. He did that quietly, in the background. When Roosevelt City became the first black city in Alabama, my mother, Rea, helped them set up their offices. My mother was the city clerk in Homewood."

He grew up in Norwood as a Presbyterian, and attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia planning to be a Presbyterian minister. He said he quit the seminary, although at the time, he said, the seminary said he was kicked out. It was then he attended theology school at the University of Chicago and became a Unitarian minister. He met another Unitarian minister named James Reeb. On March 7, 1965, when marchers in Selma were beaten by lawmen at the Pettus Bridge, Zylman headed to Selma.

"We marched with King on March 9, and that evening I decided to drive to Birmingham to visit my family," he said. "Later I learned that Jim Reeb had been beaten nearly to death." Reeb died two days later. Zylman returned to Selma.

"I talked with Dr. King, and he told me I could do the most good by going back to Chicago to recruit people to come down there," he said. "So I went back. And when I got there, one of the first people I met at a meeting was this tall young black man who asked what the situation was in Selma and if King was still in charge. I told him clearly King was in charge. And I told him to go and help out. That young man was Jesse Jackson."

Over the years Zylman worked with the homeless, the mentally disabled and for women's rights, alongside his wife, Michele Wilson, retired associate professor of sociology and director of women's studies at UAB.

In recent years, Zylman served as chaplain for a civil rights group, the United Fellowship Breakfast Forum, that meets on Sunday mornings. He showed up at NAACP events, immigration rights rallies, anything that he thought would help promote justice.

"He was a determined and courageous worker for racial justice and women's rights; he was a peace activist," said the Rev. Lawton Higgs, Sr. "He was connected with almost every organization active in women's rights, social justice, labor rights, peace, racial justice. He's been a longtime leader on the cutting edge of all these social issues for sixty years."[2]

Early radicalism

When he was a student at Birmingham-Southern College in 1959, Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor came to speak at a chapel service. When Connor complained about a newspaper story that said black inmates died at a higher rate than whites in the Birmingham Jail, Zylman jumped up and shouted, "You're a murderer!"

That kind of confrontation got him in trouble, again and again. He was often arrested, fired from jobs and kicked out of school. But he said he felt compelled to speak against injustice.

"He was always speaking out, telling it like it is," said Helen Hamilton Rivas, an immigration activist. "He did not worry about the consequences. He may not have even thought about the consequences. He could be maddening and infuriating. He did not care who he offended."

Zylman organized anti-war protests in Boston and counseled those who wanted to avoid being drafted in the Vietnam War. Even the Unitarians fired him for that, he said. Zylman was a minister for college students in Boston, many from Harvard University, and he organized anti-war rallies and helped in a network to transport young men of draft age to Canada.

"I was not against soldiers," he said. "I was against the war. We had invaded another country. In fact I helped one soldier who could not get leave. He was supposed to get married, but the Army would not let him leave his base. So I called Sen. Ted Kennedy and asked him about it, and he got in touch with the Army, and they gave the young man a special leave which allowed him time to get married."

The Unitarian Church removed Zylman from his campus ministry job because of his anti-Vietnam War political activities.[3]

KKK

Once the Ku Klux Klan put a cross on his yard in Birmingham to set it on fire, but he fired a "non-violent" shotgun blast to scare them away, he said.[4]

Freedom Democrats

He was the first executive director of the Freedom Democrats, the National Democratic Party of Alabama, founded in 1967 to oppose Gov. George Wallace. In 1969, party candidates ran in Greene County, becoming the first blacks to win control of county offices since Reconstruction.[5]

Hilliard connection

When Earl Hilliard was elected in 1992 as Alabama's first black congressman since Reconstruction, he asked Zylman to go to Washington, D.C., to serve as his administrative assistant from 1993-2003.[6]

Communist Party

Zylman said he joined the Communist Party USA in 1977 because many of the college students he had known in Boston had been members. He helped write newsletters for the party and remained a member until 1991.

In 1993, Zylman was president of the Central Alabama Coalition for a National Health System. He was appointed to the state health care task force in 1993 after writing to Gov. Jim Folsom to complain about the task force's makeup. Zylman advocated a comprehensive system where the government pays for all health care for everyone. A group of Republicans then objected to Zylman because of his past Communist Party ties, and Folsom ordered Zylman removed from the advisory committee.[7]

Communist Party reformer

In 1991 Jack...Alabama, was one of several hundred Communist Party USA members to sign the a paper "An initiative to Unite and Renew the Party" - most signatories left the Party after the December 1991 conference to found Committees of Correspondence.[8]

CoC National Conference endorser

In 1992 Rev. Jack Zylman, Birmingham chapter chaplain, National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Alabama, endorsed the Committees of Correspondence national conference Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s held at Berkeley California July 17-19.[9]

NCC candidate

At the Committees of Correspondence Conference, July 19,1992, Jack Zylman was a candidate for the CoC NCC.[10]

Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s

The Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s was the Committees of Correspondence's first national conference held in Berkeley, California July 17-19, 1992.[11]

Workshops that were held at the conference on Saturday, July 18 included:[12]

Religion Religion and the churches as a force for radical social change

Committees of Correspondence

In 1997 Jack Zylman served on the National Co-Ordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence.[13]

In 1999 Jack Zylman, was CoC National Co-ordinating Committee (at large) and member of the Metro DC Committees of Correspondence[14].

2000 trip to Cuba

In February 2000, Frederick Zylman from the office of Congressman Earl Hilliard spent six days in Havana, Cuba, for the purpose of "information gathering". The trip cost $1,478.47 and was paid for by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.[15]

Open Letter to Obama on Iran

In 2008 Rev. Zylman of Birmingham, AL signed an online petition “A Open Letter to Barack Obama on Iran”.[16]

References

  1. http://dccofc.org/personals.html
  2. Friend to MLK and enemy of the KKK, liberal minister confronted injustice (Life Stories: Jack Zylman) print Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com on November 15, 2013
  3. Friend to MLK and enemy of the KKK, liberal minister confronted injustice (Life Stories: Jack Zylman) print Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com on November 15, 2013
  4. Friend to MLK and enemy of the KKK, liberal minister confronted injustice (Life Stories: Jack Zylman) print Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com on November 15, 2013
  5. Friend to MLK and enemy of the KKK, liberal minister confronted injustice (Life Stories: Jack Zylman) print Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com on November 15, 2013
  6. Friend to MLK and enemy of the KKK, liberal minister confronted injustice (Life Stories: Jack Zylman) print Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com on November 15, 2013
  7. Friend to MLK and enemy of the KKK, liberal minister confronted injustice (Life Stories: Jack Zylman) print Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com on November 15, 2013
  8. Addendum to Initiative document
  9. CCDS Background
  10. [http://www.nathannewman.org/EDIN/.left/CoC/.conference/.election.html, Committees of Correspondence Conference, July 19,1992 Final Corrections to the Balloting Committee Report by Steve Willett]
  11. Conference program
  12. Proceedings of the Committees of Correspondence Conference: Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the '90s booklet, printed by CoC in NY, Sept. 1992 (Price: $4)
  13. CoC Corresponder November 1996/January 1997 Page 2
  14. http://www.dccofc.org/reorganize.html
  15. American Radio Works website: Trips sponsored by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation
  16. Open Letter to Obama on Iran