Howard Zinn: Our Favorite Teacher Series: Howard Zinn taught at Spelman College and Boston University where he had an extraordinary influence on his students’ understanding of history and their role in the world.  This series highlights Zinn’s lasting impact as a professor. Read more stories and submit your own.

“I feel very lucky to

have been Howard Zinn’s student.”


“I feel very lucky to have been [Howard Zinn’s] student. He was a very creative, magical teacher. He taught us how to think for ourselves, to analyze, to question what we read, and speak truth to power. He was just engaging in every way. . . .I don’t think I would have survived at Spelman in the late ’50s without Howie. But he was extraordinary. He didn’t just teach; he lived what he taught. He gave us opportunities to read our history and to go to our first generation discussions down at the YWCA. He made sure that we were able to have the opportunities to challenge segregation, whether it was in the public libraries or it was in Atlanta theaters or movies. I enjoyed our annual troop to the Georgia State Legislature, where we would sit in the whites-only gallery with Howie and stop the entire proceedings. . .”

“[Howard Zinn] was a real mensch. He made us feel empowered. He instilled in us the need to make a difference in the world and to speak truth to power. . . . He was not liked by our administration…by a lot of administration. . .but we students loved him. He was always accessible. . . . He never tried to tell us what to do. He just helped us feel encouraged and empowered, and when we got weak and a little bit uncourageous he would straighten our backs back up. . . . I also just appreciated his great respect for me as a young black girl from a little segregated town.”


“[Howard Zinn] has just irrevocably shaped my life and I’m profoundly grateful, just as his A People’s History of the United States has shaped the lives of millions and will shape the lives of millions in the future.”

Marian Wright Edelman is a lifelong activist. She is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.

This story was excerpted from a speech Marian Wright Edelman gave at the Howard Zinn Room Dedication, Busboy and Poets-Hyattsville, September 2010.

Read the essay “Marian Wright Edelman on Howard Zinn” from the series “Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors” by Beacon Broadside, a project of Beacon Press.

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