Howard Zinn's Southern Diary
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Howard Zinn's Southern Diary

Sit-ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women's Student Activism

Robert Cohen

Foreword by Alice Walker

Title Details

Pages: 312

Illustrations: 20 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 09/15/2018

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5328-9

List Price: $25.95


Pub Date: 09/15/2018

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5323-4

List Price: $104.95


Pub Date: 09/15/2018

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5322-7

List Price: $104.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation

Howard Zinn's Southern Diary

Sit-ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women's Student Activism

Robert Cohen

Foreword by Alice Walker

How young black women fought paternalism on campus and Jim Crow downtown, and how Howard Zinn was fired for supporting them

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In the 1960s, students of Spelman College, a black liberal arts college for women, were drawn into historic civil rights protests occurring across Atlanta, leading to the arrest of some for participating in sit-ins in the local community. A young Howard Zinn (future author of the worldwide best seller A People’s History of the United States) was a professor of history at Spelman during this era and served as an adviser to the Atlanta sit-in movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Zinn mentored many of Spelman’s students fighting for civil rights at the time, including Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.

As a key facilitator of the Spelman student movement, Zinn supported students who challenged and criticized the campus’s paternalistic social restrictions, even when this led to conflicts with the Spelman administration. Zinn’s involvement with the Atlanta student movement and his closeness to Spelman’s leading student and faculty activists gave him an insider’s view of that movement and of the political and intellectual world of Spelman, Atlanta University, and the SNCC.

Robert Cohen presents a thorough historical overview as well as an entrée to Zinn’s diary. One of the most extensive records of the political climate on a historically black college in 1960s America, Zinn’s diary offers an in-depth view. It is a fascinating historical document of the free speech, academic freedom, and student rights battles that rocked Spelman and led to Zinn’s dismissal from the college in 1963 for supporting the student movement.

Robert Cohen has written a powerful and timely account of Howard Zinn’s formative years as an educator and civil rights activist at Spelman College. The book, drawing on an array of archival materials, including Zinn’s diary from the period, has numerous lessons—badly needed today—about what it means to be a principled and engaged intellectual, to work in service of larger goals and ideals, and to build genuine solidarity. I urge anyone interested in Zinn’s life and work to read it.

—Anthony Arnove, coeditor, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People’s History of the United States

In this expert treatment, Robert Cohen uses Howard Zinn’s diary as a vehicle to tell a larger story about the intersection of race and gender in a social movement, black campuses and their relationship to the southern black freedom struggle, and the effort to upend in loco parentis regulations and remake college life. The diary itself is a compelling read, but Cohen’s astute discussion of the complex reality of the times and his interviews with Zinn’s contemporaries add a rich texture to the book that should not be missed. Readers will be rewarded with an incisive look at one of the most iconic historians of our time and a window into the battle to remake black colleges and American society in the middle twentieth century.

—Joy Ann Williamson-Lott, author of Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order

This is a gem of a book! Organized around Howard Zinn’s fascinating diary of events during 1963, Robert Cohen’s account provides fresh information about how Zinn’s time at Spelman College (1956–63) converged with the contentious process of change in Atlanta, across the South, and on the Spelman campus. In recovering this formative chapter in Zinn’s biography, Cohen tells the story of a generation of black college women on the front lines of the freedom struggle.

—Patricia Sullivan, author of Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement


Daniel E. Griffiths Award, NYU School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

About the Author/Editor

ROBERT COHEN is a professor of history and social studies at New York University and is the author of Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary: Sit-ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women’s Student Activism. He lives in New York City.