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 came to Boston University to expand my emerging political activism. Attending 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—the very definition of a college professor, it seems to me.
As a campus activist and editor of the radical student newspaper The NEWS (the former BU News), Howard was one of many teachers who supported me, along with many other students, in pursuing a lifelong commitment to social change. I was fortunate that we were able to stay in touch over the years.
One of the first things John Silber did when he became BU’s president was to reinstate military recruiters’ access on campus. In March of 1972, Marine Corps recruiters were the first ones scheduled to conduct interviews at the Placement Office on Bay State Rd.
We organized a sit-in to blockade the building entrance. After several hours the university called in the Boston Police, who cleared us off the steps and arrested 33 protesters. It was the beginning of a series of protests on campus that continued through the spring. Ironically, Howard was home sick that day and could not join us. Harvey Boulay, a junior political science professor, was the only faculty member who joined us, along with graduate assistants Peter Irons and Priscilla Long. Along with attempting to prosecute us for trespassing, the university got an injunction against us in an attempt to forestall further protests. Of course, this did not make any difference at all. I believe Howard was among a group who were arrested several weeks later for occupying part of the George Sherman Union building.
On a lighter note: For some reason, BU’s activists in that period tended to be dog owners and Howard allowed us to bring our dogs to class. This made things a little chaotic sometimes, but he always accepted the small disruptions and even incorporated them in his presentations. He once started a lecture, “Today I’m going to talk about Karl Marx . . . and his dogs!”
Murray Rosenblith went on to work at WIN magazine, organized a number of demonstrations, and became active in the War Resisters League, and remains an active member to this day. Murray served as executive director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute (1985-2008), a publicly supported charitable foundation in New York supporting groups working to effect social change through nonviolence. Currently, he is a fund manager and director at New Alternatives Fund, the oldest mutual fund in the country investing in companies developing alternative energy and energy conservation products and resources.
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.