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Robert and Gay Zieger Social Justice Scholarship Fund


Dr. Robert Zieger (1938-2013), Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Florida, was one of the preeminent labor historians of the United States. Bob was a spirited and highly esteemed historian and two-time recipient of the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award who introduced countless scholars, students, union members, and community organizers to the field of labor history. Gay Zieger (1938-2013) taught English and Literature at Santa Fe College from 1987 to 2009 after serving on the faculty of Wayne State University in Detroit. She was an accomplished photographer, painter, and author. Gay and Bob were married in 1962 and have one son, Robert.

Bob and Gay Zieger were two of SPOHP’s most active supporters, and attended nearly every public program. After fifty years of marriage, Bob and Gay Zieger passed away within months of each other in 2013. Their family created the Robert and Gay Zieger Social Justice and Oral History Scholarship Fund to carry on their legacy. The funds support SPOHP’s social justice fieldwork, research, teaching, and publication missions. Below is a summary of the Robert and Gay Zieger Social Justice and Oral History Scholarship Fund’s impact to date, which has preserved memories of communities across the country while providing enriching fieldwork experience for students.

Zieger Fund Social Justice Initiatives at SPOHP:

The 2014 Mississippi Freedom Project Fieldwork Trip

In June 2014, sixteen SPOHP students and staff traveled to Natchez, Cleveland, Ruleville, and Indianola, Mississippi for six days to gather interviews for the Mississippi Freedom Project, with support of the Zieger Fund. The group was present for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and recorded oral history interviews with returning Freedom Summer veterans. “I Never Will Forget”: Memories of Mississippi Freedom Summer (2014), an edited volume of MFP interviews from Sunflower County, was released at the Freedom Summer reunion organized by the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization.

The 2014 Oral History Association Conference

In October 2014, the Zieger Fund underwrote eight SPOHP students and staff who presented at the annual OHA meeting in Madison, Wisconsin.

Génesis Lara spoke on a panel entitled, “Un-silencing Hispaniola’s Histories: Precedents and Possibilities,” and on a second panel, “From Oral History to Community Action: Latino Youth Building Community and Transforming Social Discourses and Institutions.” Diana Dombrowski and Dr. Erin Conlin spoke on the panel, “Recording Voices and Empowering Communities: Oral History, Community, Engagement, and Social Justice,” discussing oral history research related to social justice organizing. Jessica Taylor, Matthew Simmons, and Chelsea Carnes presented a panel entitled, “Suffering in Silence: Counteracting Myths of Passivity through Narratives of Resistance.” Sarah Blanc presented on the panel, “The Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer at 50: New Evidence, New Interpretations.”

Digital Humanities Coordinator Deborah Hendrix provided videography services throughout the conference to make conference presentations available to the public on SPOHP’s YouTube channel.

The 2014 Virginia Tidewater Main Street Project

In October 2014, UF history students traveled to eastern Virginia to document folklore, traditional crafts, and rural development with residents of Mathews and Middlesex Counties, led by graduate coordinator Jessica Taylor, with support of the Zieger Fund. The inaugural trip featured two oral history open houses in Virginia, a methods workshop, and an interdisciplinary panel open to the public. Oral history research conducted during the week built on a foundation of 45 interviews conducted on the Middle Peninsula by SPOHP graduate coordinator Jessica Taylor over the past two years.

The field research team was comprised of past and present interns, staff members, graduate students and four undergraduate University Scholars. In 2015, SPOHP staff and students transcribed all 30 interviews, shared them with host communities, and archived the entire project online, now available through the University of Florida Digital Collections archive at:

The 2015 Appalachian Social Change Fieldwork Project

In February 2015, the Zieger Fund sponsored ten SPOHP students and staff who traveled to Appalachian North Carolina to document changes in small mountain communities due to expanding tourism development, led by graduate coordinator Jessica Taylor. The group held an open house to gather interviews and presented an oral history methodology workshop for undergraduate students at Lees-McRae College and Mars Hill University.

The 2015 Latina/o Diaspora in the Americas Fieldwork Trip

In March 2015, the Zieger Fund sponsored a group of eleven SPOHP students and staff who traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to conduct interviews about the previously-banned Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District. The group partnered with Prescott College to record the voices of students, community leaders, parents, and educators who have been deeply affected by the Arizona legislature’s statewide ban on ethnic studies programs in public schools.

The 2015 Mississippi Freedom Project Fieldwork Trip

In June 2015, sixteen SPOHP students and staff traveled to Montgomery, Alabama and Natchez and Indianola, Mississippi for six days to gather interviews for the Mississippi Freedom Project, with support from the Zieger Fund. In Montgomery, the group interviewed staff members at the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center. In Natchez, the group presented a public panel entitled “Unfinished Business: Race, Democracy, and the Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights.”

The 2015 Teaching for Change Teacher’s Institute

In July 2015, the Zieger Fund sponsored MFP staff Sarah Blanc and Diana Dombrowski in travel to Jackson, Mississippi, where they facilitated an oral history methodology workshop for Teaching for Change’s teacher fellowship program on Mississippi history, focusing on the civil rights movement and labor. The institute is designed to build a sustainable statewide learning community of classroom language arts, social studies, and history teachers in grades 6-12 for teaching hands-on, inquiry-based U.S. history through the lens of race and class in Mississippi history.

The 2015 Oral History Association Annual Meeting

In October 2015, the Zieger Fund underwrote seven SPOHP students and staff presenting at the annual OHA meeting in Tampa, Florida.

Dr. Paul Ortiz, Ann Smith, Don Obrist, and Deborah Hendrix presented a roundtable entitled, “Veterans of WWII Tell Their Stories.” Sarah Blanc, Patrick Daglaris, Diana Dombrowski, and Jessica Taylor presented a roundtable entitled, “Standing with Elders: Fieldwork in the South.” Poarch Creek Project coordinator Diana Dombrowski presented on the “Teaching and Connecting Through Native American History” panel. Graduate coordinators of SPOHP’s Alachua County African American History Project, Dr. Ryan Morini, Randi Gill-Sadler, Justin Dunnavant, and Anthony Donaldson, presented on the roundtable, “#NoLaughingMatter: Disrupting Racial Oppression in the New South,” and project coordinators across SPOHP presented at the “Standing with Elders: Fieldwork in the South,” including Diana Dombrowski with the Poarch Creek Project, Jessica Taylor with the Appalachian Social Change Project, Sarah Blanc with Mississippi Freedom Project, and Patrick Daglaris, with the Virginia Tidewater Main Street Project.

SPOHP also accepted the 2015 Elizabeth Mason Project Award (Small Project Category) for a year-long digitization collaboration between the Mississippi Freedom Project and the George A. Smathers Libraries.

SPOHP and the UF School of Theatre and Dance additionally presented an encore performance of “Gator Tales,” a dramatic oral history performance devised and directed by Kevin Marshall, which drew from SPOHP’s Alachua County African American History Project to tell the stories of the first students to integrate the University of Florida.

The 2015 Virginia Tidewater Main Street Project

Students and staff from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program returned to the Middle Peninsula of Virginia in October 2015, continuing the Fieldwork in Folklore research trip into its second year and building interviews for the Tidewater Main Street Project, with support from the Zieger Fund. The trip focused on the environmental and economic sustainability of local fishing and tourism industries, in connection with Mathews County historians and professionals.

Students and staff workshopped with community members to teach on the fundamentals of oral history, and students and staff also presented together to discuss SPOHP’s work across the Southeast in an encore presentation of “Standing With Our Elders: Fieldwork in the South,” originally presented the preceding week at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Tampa by senior research associates Diana Dombrowski and Sarah Blanc, staff Patrick Daglaris, and trip coordinator Jessica Taylor.

The Virginia Fieldwork in Folklore trip seeks to demonstrate the usefulness of history to UF students, and the utility of the major in their own lives. Research puts history students in conversation with professionals working in the fields of digital humanities, law, nonprofit work, archaeology, folklore, and American Studies from institutions including the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the College of William and Mary, and the Johns Hopkins University.

Further Impact of Robert and Gay Zieger’s Legacy

The Southern Labor Studies Association’s Robert H. Zieger Prize

The Southern Labor Studies Association (SLSA) announces the Robert H. Zieger Prize for the best essay in Southern Labor Studies. This prize has been established with the cooperation of the Zieger family and members of the SLSA.

The SLSA encourages the study and teaching of southern working-class history, and builds connections between labor activists and academics to encourage a greater understanding of the diverse experiences and cultures of workers in the South, broadly defined. This prize will be awarded every two years to the best article in southern labor studies submitted by a graduate student or early career scholar, journalist, or activist (“early career” being defined as no more than five years beyond the author’s highest degree).

Congratulations to the 2015 winner, Lane Windham, for her essay, “The Cannon Mills Case: Out of the Southern Frying Pan, Into the Global Fire.”

The Bob and Gay Zieger Labor Library at the Civic Media Center

In September 2014, the Civic Media Center and Library dedicated the Bob and Gay Zieger Labor Library. The Ziegers influenced countless students and community members through their work at both Santa Fe College and the University of Florida. Because of their support for the Civic Media Center and the Labor Movement—and progressive causes in general—the CMC named their labor collection in their memory.

For additional information, contact SPOHP, call the offices at (352) 392-7168, and connect with us online today.