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Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary, by Robert Cohen.

July 20, 2018

Howard Zinn's Southern Diary

Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary: Sit-ins, Civil Rights, and Black Women’s Student Activism, by Robert Cohen. University of Georgia Press, 2018.

Forthcoming September 2018

4 stars

The diary that the historian kept when he was supporting the young women of Spelman College in Atlanta in 1963, when the Civil rights Movement was begining.upplemented by other sources on the events of this critical time.

Howard Zinn is  best known for his People’s History of the United States which revealed about the people of the United States whose lives and resistance had been left out of accepted history.  The book first appeared in 1980 and was an accessible example of what was happening in the American historical profession and a popularization of a more inclusive approach to history.

In the 1960s, Zinn was a young history professor at Spelman College, a school noted for the cultured young African American ladies who attended there.  In the spring of 1963, the Civil Right Movement was just beginning to spread.  Zinn, a Jewish man from New York, became a supporter, catalyst, and advisor for Spelman students caught up in the early sit-ins in Atlanta.  The college administration strongly opposed his activities and by the end of the semester fired him for radicalizing students.  Events of that spring were significant in the rise of the movement, and Zinn’s diary provides a contemporary, inside view of the events and debates.

Robert Cohen teaches at New York University and has written several books about twentieth century radicalism in the U.S., especially the student protests of the 1960s.  In presenting Zinn’s diary, he has assembled abundant background materials that reflect its context and significance.  These include oral histories of Spelman students and others who worked closely with Zinn, such as Alice Walker and Marion Wright Edelman.  His book provides insight not only on Zinn and people associated with Spelman, but also into how and why protests develop and succeed.

Zinn’s diary and the related materials in this book will be especially valuable to teachers and researchers who focus on the Civil Rights Movement.  Non-academic readers will be rewarded with insight into the era and the debates swirling around it.  I recommend it to both groups.

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