The following is an excerpt from Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors by Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. Edelman was a student of the late Howard Zinn at Spelman College.
The tall, lanky professor and I arrived at Spelman College together in 1956. He and his wife Roslyn and their two children, Myla and Jeff, lived in the back of the Spelman College infirmary where students 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 conventional wisdom. He was a risk-taker. I am indebted to him for my first interracial experience with a discussion 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 deliberations to hoot and jeer and demand 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 he announced in class that he did not believe in Jesus Christ. There were few Jewish citizens in my small South Carolina hometown. Through him I began to discern that goodness comes in many faiths and forms which must be respected and honored.