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Marian Wright Edelman on Howard Zinn

Marian Wright Edelman on Howard Zinn

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Published by Beacon Press
Marian Wright Edelman remembers Howard Zinn's time teaching at Spelman College.
Marian Wright Edelman remembers Howard Zinn's time teaching at Spelman College.

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Published by: Beacon Press on Jan 28, 2010
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01/28/2014

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Edelman, Marian Wright.
Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors
(Beacon Press, 1999).HOWARD ZINNThe tall, lanky professor and I arrived at Spelman College together in 1956. He and his wife Roslynand their two children, Myla and Jeff, lived in the back of the Spelman College infirmary wherestudents felt welcomed to gather, explore ideas, share hopes, and just chew the fat.Howie encouraged students to think outside the box and to question rather than accept conventionalwisdom. He was a risk-taker. I am indebted to him for my first interracial experience with a discus-sion group at the YMCA on international relations and for going with his Black Spelman students to
sit in the “White” section of the state legislature which stopped its deliber
ations to hoot and jeer anddemand that we be removed. He lost no opportunity to challenge segregation in theaters, libraries,and restaurants, and encouraged us to do the same.
Howie not only lived what he taught in history class by breaching Atlanta’s segregated boundaries,
 but stretched my religious tolerance beyond childhood limits. I felt shock and confusion when heannounced in class that he did not believe in Jesus Christ. There were few Jewish citizens in mysmall South Carolina hometown. Through him I began to discern that goodness comes in manyfaiths and forms which must be respected and honored.The Black Spelman establishment did not like Howard Zinn any more than the White establishmentdid. Later, after he joined the faculty at Boston University its president, John Silber, disliked him just
as much as Spelman’s president Albert Man
ley did, because he made some teachers andadministrators uncomfortable by challenging the comfortable status quo. We called him Howie andfelt him to be a confidant and friend as well as a teacher, contrary to the more formal andhierarchical traditions of many Black colleges. He stressed analysis and not memorization;questioning, discussions, and essays rather than multiple choices and pet answers; and he conveyed
and affirmed my Daddy’s belief and message that I could do and be
anything and that life wasabout far more than bagging a Morehouse man for a husband.He lived simply and nonmaterialistically. I felt comfortable asking to drive his old Chevrolet to
transport picketers to Rich’s department store. He was passionate abou
t justice and his belief in theability of individuals to make a difference in the world. Not a word-mincer, he said what he believed and encouraged us as students to do the same.He conveyed to me and to other students that he believed in us. He conveyed to members of theStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee whose voter registration and organizing efforts hechronicled in his book
SNCC: The New Abolitionists
that he believed in, respected, and supported ourstruggle. He was there when two hundred students conducted sit-ins and seventy-seven of us gotarrested. He provided us a safe space in his home to plan civil rights activities by listening and not

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