Robert Cohen

Sessions

Books

Howard Zinn's Southern Diary: Sit-ins, Civil Rights and Black Women's Student Activism

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 It is a fascinating historical document of the free speech, academic freedom, and student rights battles that rocked Spelman and led to Zinn's dismissal from the college in 1963 for supporting the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 is a professor of history and social studies at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the editor of Rebellion in Black and White: Southern Student Activism in the 1960s and author of Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s.