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Howard Zinn Inspired Spelman Women to Stand Up, Speak Out and Soar

March 2016



Howard Zinn was a historian, author, professor, playwright, and activist. His life’s work focused on a wide range of issues including race, class, war, and history, and touched the lives of countless people.

Zinn grew up in Brooklyn in a working-class, immigrant household. At 18 he became a shipyard worker and then joined the Air Force and flew bombing missions during World War II. These experiences helped shape his opposition to war and his strong belief in the importance of knowing history.

After attending college under the G.I. Bill, he worked as a warehouse loader while earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. From 1956 to 1963, he taught at Spelman where he became active in the Civil Rights Movement. He was later awarded an honorary degree from Spelman in 2005.

Zinn was the author of dozens of books, including A People’s History of the United States, the play Marx in Soho, Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, and SNCC: The New Abolitionists. He received many awards including the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction, the Eugene V. Debs award for his writing and political activism, and the Ridenhour Courage Prize.

Read More about how Zinn inspired and encouraged the activist activities of Spelman students during the Civil Rights Movement.

Several Spelman scholars and activists talk about the huge impact former Spelman professor Howard Zinn had upon their lives.

Marian Wright Edelman, C'61

Marian Wright“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. . .”

Marian Wright Edelman, C'60, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-60s when, as the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College, which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977.

Annette Jones White, C'64

jones_white_annette2“I no longer saw myself as just a tiny part of an isolated struggle to end discrimination in Albany, Georgia.”

Annette Jones White is a lifelong civil rights activist—one of 40 suspended or expelled from Albany State for “making the school look bad” by demonstrating for civil rights. Annette was finally expelled causing the loss of her job, scholarships, and the Miss Albany State College crown. She later enrolled at Spelman where she met Zinn.

Georgianne Thomas, Ph.D., C'64

"He helped many of us who marched for freedom through his encouraging words. We have included him in our award-winning documentary, Foot Soldiers: Class of 1964

Georgianne Thomas is the creator and executive producer of "Foot Soldiers: Class of 1964,” an award-winning, independent documentary about women in the Class of 1964 at Spelman College, who participated in the largest coordinated, series of civil rights protests in Atlanta’s history as college freshmen. "As young women – sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen years old – these willing souls were some of the foot soldiers of the Atlanta University Center who carried the Atlanta Student Movement through relentless picketing, sit-ins, kneel-ins, and other non-violent demonstrations."

Alice Walker
(Associated with C'65)

AliceWalker_square-150x150“Howard Zinn was magical as a teacher. Witty, irreverent, and wise, he loved what he was teaching and clearly wanted his students to love it also.”

Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated writer, poet and activist whose books include seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1983 and the National Book Award.

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