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.
I took two courses with Professor Zinn. Zinn was a popular professor, his classes crowded. Many students followed him around after class like good-natured groupies (no insult intended). Some students just took his class for “an easy grade.” One time, when we broke into small groups and I heard that some of my fellow students were only in Zinn’s class for the grade, not the progressive politics, I literally began to cry.
Overall, I found Zinn’s written works more interesting than his lectures but his lectures were also interesting and entertaining. Howard Zinn was a charming man. This could be a fault in the sense that I think he overdid wanting to be liked by everyone. I always kept my distance from him except to ask him if he could speak at various student rallies I was active in helping to organize—mostly around the topic of getting U.S. imperialism (including the likes of John Silber, BU president) out of Central America. I was in a student group called CISPES and in other progressive groups. Zinn was gracious enough, committed enough, and lacked professorial pretensions so he almost always came through on speaking at the rallies and events that I and others on the left organized.
That’s what I remember most about Howard Zinn: a famous, busy intellectual taking time out to speak at a rally, no matter how small, no matter if the weather was bad or if hardly anyone seemed to be listening. To see him do this time and again was inspirational and a lesson in serious organizing.
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.