Howard Zinn

By Caroline Pate

Howard Zinn was a professor of History as well as the department chair at Spelman College during the Civil Rights Movement. During his tenure, 1956-1963, he was able to inspire so many students to do more than just sit in a classroom and learn. Zinn said that he wanted to get out and experience the history that was happening and encouraged his students to do the same.

I wanted to get out and experience the history that was happening and I encouraged my students to do the same.Howard Zinn
A group that was a substantial part in the Civil Rights Movement was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Zinn was the faculty advisor for this organization as well as allowing the students to have meetings in his home. This was done so that the students could avoid being kicked out of school and it was a much safer place for them to meet as well. Due to his involvement with SNCC, Zinn was fired from Spelman College in 1963 despite being a tenured professor.

Zinn also felt compelled to document the history that was taking place. He wrote down everything he saw and the things he experienced. Without these documents, there were many things that could have been forgotten and we wouldn’t have the knowledge that we do today. For instance, Zinn recorded at least 30 violations of the 13th and 14th amendments. These included violations of rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and equal protection under the law.

In June of 1960, Zinn participated in a trial run of the sit-ins. This happened in the Magnolia Room in Rich’s Department Store and included the following: Howard Zinn, Roslyn Zinn (his wife), Myla Zinn (his daughter), Lonnie King, and Carolyn Long Banks. None of the party was allowed to eat, and fortunately, no one was arrested, however, all members were detained and were taken to the police station.

Howard Zinn managed to do a great deal to aid in the Civil Rights Movement. He met and taught some incredible people including Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple), Marian Wright Edelman (founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund), and Bernice Johnson Reagon. He was among many who helped make a difference for African-Americans. Unfortunately, Howard Zinn passed away in 2010 due to a heart attack, but his legacy lives on.