Our Favorite Teacher | HowardZinn.org

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. Known everywhere as the author of A People’s History of the United States, Zinn was not only a scholar and a writer. Howard Zinn, Our Favorite Teacher highlights Zinn’s lasting impact as a professor.

If you are a former student of Howard Zinn, please submit your story.

Marian Wright Edelman
Class of 1960 • Spelman College
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…
Annette Jones White
Class of 1964 • Spelman College

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

Dr. Georgianne Thomas
Class of 1964 • Spelman College

I loved Dr. Zinn. He made history come alive and I hated history back then. I regret dropping out of the volunteer Chinese class he was teaching in the 1960s. 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. Please visit our site, www.footsoldiers1964.com, and see the trailer for the movie.

Dr. Georgianne Thomas (R) and her daughter, Alvelyn Sanders, are producers of the film Foot Soldiers: Class of 1964.

Alice Walker
Class of 1965 • Spelman College

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.

John Ingersoll
Class of 1965 • Boston University

Howard was a spellbinding teacher, speaking softly and slowly, gradually building his thesis and leaving you mesmerized and inspired. I was already pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam War but he deepened and enriched my dedication to those movements. He changed my life.

After Selma, I asked his help in getting a teaching job at a Black college and it turned out to be Spelman (1965–69), where I met my wife of 44 years.

Howard Zinn was one of the two most powerful moral influences on my life. The other was Rev. Jack Mendelsohn of Arlington Street Church.

John Ingersoll is retired from Emory University.

Barbara Mutnick
Class of 1966 • Boston University

He was very nonsectarian and felt small differences shouldn’t keep groups from working together.

Larry Winters
Class of 1968 • Boston University

I was in his popular course, Civil Liberties, 1966, if I remember correctly. We new-lefties sat together on one side of the big classroom. Some fellow with a crew cut said, “It is easy enough to criticize. How about some practical suggestions?”

Howard smiled his wonderful smile, and said, I’ll never forget… “How about free food?”

He then launched into a long, detailed set of proposals concerning agriculture and socialism.

We were blown away.

Gail Lelyveld
Class of 1970 • Boston University

I had already planned to take Howard’s first semester class on Civil Liberties. My Dad had heard him talk about Vietnam, and tells me, “You have to take this guy’s class, he is wonderful.” Well, one must do what one’s father says, right?

Ginny Hildebrand
Class of 1970 and 1972 • Boston University

His natural humility combined with his fervor for peace and human rights helped me believe that we could be better people and build a better world.

Murray Rosenblith
Class of 1973/1977  • Boston University

Howard’s classes gave me a deeper appreciation for the history of the generations of activists before me and inspired my curiosity to learn more…

Michael Stavros
Class of 1973 • Boston University

His students loved him—students all over Boston loved him, because he stood up for us—he stood up for the truth.

Robert Dannin
Class of 1973 • Boston University

The third course [I took] was the one Howard conducted in the streets and courtrooms of Boston. He led one antiwar demonstration outside a U.S. Army base in Danvers. We were all arrested and charged with ‘sauntering and loitering to create a public nuisance.

Alan Ginden
Class of 1974 • Boston University

Dr. Zinn was my favorite professor at Boston University. He inspired me to study and learn more than I could have imagined. My most memorable moment was during one of the anti-Vietnam protests on Commonwealth Ave. when he participated with all of the students.

Liz Randol
Class of 1974 • Boston University

He was so popular because he didn’t speak down to students, and he had such a wry and funny sense of humor.

William Holtzman
Class of 1974 • Boston University

To me, this was vintage Howard Zinn: honest, courageous, and right on target.

The Day I Met Father Dan Berrigan—Thanks To Howard Zinn

Father Dan had been enjoying an 18-month “vacation” at Danbury prison in Connecticut for burning draft board records. Howard asked, “Anyone want to drive to Danbury and celebrate Dan’s release?”  Two days later, about 25 of us were heading west on I-90.

David Schaff
Class of 1975 • Boston University
In the spirit of education via the “act,” one of my fondest memories of Howard’s teaching is his advocacy for us to stand up for our beliefs on the picket line.
Richard Cohen | HowardZinn.org
Richard Cohen
Class of 1976 • Boston University

If memory serves after 42 years, I was fortunate enough to have taken 2 classes with Professor Zinn. One was a rather large lecture, possibly, as a junior. The other was a very small, intimate discussion group as a senior which was amazing. He was larger than life but incredibly approachable, humble and did he ever make you see the world from a different prism than you had before.

My clearer memories were from the 90’s and the 2000’s when we resumed correspondence via email and I would see him in NYC when he was here lecturing. He met one of my daughters and read my other daughter’s law journal article, even replying to her and asking questions about the topic, which was right in his wheelhouse.

A very special human being. I still call him Professor and when I did some teaching as an adjunct, I would never allow students to call me Professor, almost in deference to Professor Zinn, who I would always mention to them as the reason why I would not accept the title.


Laurel Krause
Class of 1976 • Boston University

Learning from Howard helped me heal, fostering thoughts of a just, peaceful world without war took root despite the chaos of those times.

Philip Read
Class of 1977 • Boston University

A remarkable man whose faith in his message never wavered and rightly so.

Vicente Carbona
Class of 1978 • Boston University

I was ten years-old when my family emigrated from fascist Spain to Boston in 1966. Adapting to American culture and society was difficult at first; I worked hard in Boston Public Schools and made it to college. But it wasn’t until I studied with Howard Zinn at BU (1974-78) that I finally came to truly love America.

Because Professor Zinn helped me understand that in America, you have the right and the duty to fight against injustice; that political ideology is secondary to moral and ethical truths; and that the constant struggle for fairness and equality is a fulfilling and liberating endeavor.

Howard Zinn played no small part in making me the person I am today. I am indeed fortunate and grateful to have known him.

David Detmer
Class of 1980 • Boston University

His classes, though rich in content, were fun, and my sense was that nearly everyone in them, no matter what their political orientation, not only learned a lot, but also had a good time in doing so.

Betty Robinson
Class of 1981 • Boston University

As a grad student, I was in Howard’s Politics of History class when all the unions went on strike. A group of us were trying to organize graduate assistants to form a union as well. Several of us joined the other union representatives in an attempt to keep all of the unions on the same page throughout the strike and any negotiations. Obviously, Howard was also active in this group, but much to his chagrin, the faculty bargaining unit finally settled with Silbur and crossed the picket lines of the all the other union strikers.

I remember finishing Howard’s class, meeting outside so no picket lines were crossed. These experiences with him later propelled me into the labor movement working first for the Massachusetts nurses’ union and later for the Maine State employees union.

Howard was a great teacher in every sense of the word. He taught by example as well as in the classroom and outside in the streets, his home, local cafes, everywhere. I’ll never forget the late night he called me in Maine. I hadn’t heard from him for a number of years. Yet here was his voice saying, “Betty, it’s Howard. Now Silbur is running for governor of Massachusetts and we need your money and your name.” I was so honored that he thought to call and that he too remembered our work together during the strike. He had a profound effect on my life’s direction and on my ability to summon my courage to act for social justice.

Gene Roman
Class of 1982 • Boston College

I was one of 150 undergrads in Howard Zinn’s Politics of History class in the Fall of 1981. In those days, you could cross register for classes at any of the *Beanpot schools.

As I grew into adulthood, I discovered that most activists of the left or the right, tend to be dour, sullen and depressing to be around. Zinn taught me how to tread lightly amidst some serious mishegos. He was fun to be around, enjoyed laughing and did not fall into the trap of giving loyalty to some orthodoxy. People, community, and fellowship first. How else could he have gotten that wonderful gal, Roslyn, to marry him? A Jewish kid from Brooklyn. How could I not like him?

*The Beanpot Hockey Tournament is annual competition between the hockey teams at four of Boston’s major universities — Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern.

Edie Robinette Petrachi
Class of 1981 • Boston University

Happy Birthday, Professor Zinn! It was a distinct honor and privilege to study with Howard at BU in 1981. The course I took was “Passivity and Rebellion.” We studied Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” works of Gandhi and others. I was able to ‘debate’ my way from a B+ to an A- at the end of the term…

David Colapinto
Class of 1982 • Boston University

Even when faced with the prospect of an unjust termination from BU, Howard Zinn invariably remained optimistic. . . . With steady calm, he reminded us of the importance of social and political movements and how the history of those movements in America applies to everyday life.

Keith McHenry
Class of 1982 • Boston University

The largest impact during his class was his report on his participation in the anti-nuclear power protests at Seabrook Nuclear Station. This inspired me to join Clamshell Alliance. I participated in the October 6, 1979 Occupation Attempt of The Seabrook Nuclear Station site which for many of us was life changing.

Jeff Booth
Class of 1983 • Boston University

To see him do this time and again was inspirational and a lesson in serious organizing.

Sarah Kain
Class of 1985 • Boston University

He asked us if we were going to hit the streets or not!

Nadine Dolby
Class of 1986 • Boston University

He would lecture for a little while and then it was an open forum for students to talk and challenge him. He enjoyed being challenged. It kept him fresh and it kept him on his toes.

Stuart Shulman
Class of 1989 Boston University

He told me about why he and Roz decided this was a country worth fighting for…

Roger Ochoa
Class of 1990 • Boston University

Taking Howard’s advice, I decided to question authority, sit down with Professor Zinn, and challenge my C+.

Submit Your Story – Howard Zinn, Our Favorite Teacher | HowardZinn.org

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.

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