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. The “Howard Zinn: Our Favorite Teacher” series highlights Zinn’s lasting impact as a professor.
In the summer of 1964, Bettina Schuman (Woolard) and I, to my knowledge, were the only BU students who participated in Mississippi Summer—the SNCC/COFO project that recruited students from colleges around the country to go to Mississippi to do voter registration and set up freedom schools. I first heard about Howard Zinn there in Mississippi, because he was a valued advisor to SNCC.
When we returned, we helped set up a civil rights group on the BU campus, and I believe that Professor Zinn was our advisor. After these many years, all I know for sure is that Howard Zinn was our advisor no matter what group we set up—civil rights, antiwar, and a socialist club. I made many a trip to his class or office to get his signature on requests for literature tables, meeting rooms, or countless petitions and Howard Zinn was always the first one we thought of to ask for an endorsement of whatever campaign we were involved in.
In 1964, the activities were just beginning, and there were not a lot of participants. But by the time I graduated from BU in 1966, hundreds of students were turning out for teach-ins against the Vietnam War [and other demonstrations]. Zinn was always sought after to speak. It didn’t take too long to convince me that the array of social and political problems we confronted then were connected, and that the system was to blame. I became a committed socialist and joined the Young Socialist Alliance and later the Socialist Workers Party. Professor Zinn occasionally would wink at me and refer to me as his “favorite Trotskyite.” I accepted this moniker in the spirit it was given—his special fondness for all the radical activists at BU. He was very nonsectarian and felt small differences shouldn’t keep groups from working together.
I took an American history class from him and only wished I’d done much better in it than I had. But he never held that against me. I will never forget his wonderful grin, his great New York accent, his patience, and his willingness to do anything he could to help us get out the truth and build our movements. I’ve felt “lucky” to have been his student all these years!
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.