[Howard Zinn raw #98: Marian Wright Edelman Interview]

Raw interview footage with Marian Wright Edelman for the documentary Howard Zinn: You Can´t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller.

00:30Copy video clip URL Dennis Mueller and Marian Wright Edelman discuss Howard Zinn, with Mueller detailing his approach to the documentary he’s making. He explains how exciting the project with Zinn has been for him.

02:15Copy video clip URL Edelman explains how she knows Howard; they were freshmen together at Spelman College in 1956, in the sense that she was a freshman student and Zinn was a freshman professor. He was her favorite professor, Edelman says, and the two sparked a lifelong friendship.

03:05Copy video clip URL He was a “mentor, friend, and great teacher,” Edelman says of Zinn. She explains that Zinn worked quite counter to the “rather formal atmosphere” at Spelman College. “He encouraged questioning and debate,” Edelman says of Zinn’s unique style.

04:30Copy video clip URL Edelman shares an anecdote of a time that Zinn took her class to do discussions on race and world affairs, and did so in ways that challenged the orthodoxy.

05:10Copy video clip URL Zinn’s house was always open, Edelman says, noting that his children were a fixture of interactions with Zinn. She also explains that his kindness came as a shock to her when she learned that Zinn was not a Christian.

05:55Copy video clip URL Zinn “not only taught us what was in the books,” Edelman says, but he also “went out to try and find out how we could apply that.”

06:35Copy video clip URL “It was with Howard that we began to feel we could question segregation,” Edelman says of how Zinn empowered his students. She describes how Zinn was always “kind of there,” in the students’ struggle for racial justice.

07:20Copy video clip URL Edelman also shares how Zinn nominated her for the Merrill Scholarship at Spelman — the first foreign travel fellowship to be available to Spelman students. She then shares many details on various parts of that trip. She tells of how Zinn helped her to plan her own itinerary, reorder her classes, and made the trip so much more exceptional for her.

10:30Copy video clip URL Edelman shares the story of how she made the decision to apply to the University of Geneva, with the hope of saving enough money to do a year of study in the Soviet Union. She explains that this taught her about the power of her own autonomy — and attributes learning such a thing to Zinn’s influence.

12:35Copy video clip URL Edelman explains that in 1960 when she returned the United States it was the time of challenging Southern segregation — and that Howard was present for that as well.

13:20Copy video clip URL Edelman explores Zinn’s “capacity for moral outrage,” and how his ability to be “profoundly upset” was enormously important to her development.

14:45Copy video clip URL Mueller asks a question about what the situation was like for Zinn, a liberal teacher from New York working in the segregated American South. Edelman notes that outside of the walls of Spelman, interracial contact of any kind was suppressed. She notes that Zinn often took students out into the city in an effort to challenge and push against segregation.

15:40Copy video clip URL Edelman notes that Zinn’s actions in pushing back against segregation brought him condemnation from the president and other administrators at Spelman.

16:40Copy video clip URL Spelman notes that one of Zinn’s most special abilities was his “intergenerational communication,” and the how he made his students comfortable. She commends how she made him feel secure insofar as she had an adult that was there for her. She goes on to apply this to the broader Civil Rights movement, drawing likeness between Zinn and Dr. Martin Luther King.

18:20Copy video clip URL “He always had us engaged,” Edelman says of Zinn, as she explains how Zinn worked to expose his students to people and experiences that helped them to truly learn about the world. “It was enormously empowering,” Edelman says.

19:45Copy video clip URL “He listens,” Edelman says, emphasizing Zinn’s ability to do what some adults do not: take a step back and respect the opinions of those around them.

20:00Copy video clip URL Edelman explains some of her feelings on the Civil Rights movement, especially its origins. She says that Black soldiers returning from WWII, where they saw that fighting for democracy and rights could be like, was a big motivator of it.

22:30Copy video clip URL Edelman explains how the feelings and emotions built up over time, eventually gaining leadership to guide them, before truly becoming a movement.

23:00Copy video clip URL Edelman continues to share stories from her experiences of the Civil Rights movement, eventually bringing the focus back to Zinn and his power in the movement.

24:25Copy video clip URL Mueller asks, in the context of Zinn’s book, how people can again be motivated to feel that they can indeed change the world. Edelman examines A People’s History of the United States and its honesty. She also notes that the book is clear in that the power of the individual has held constant over the course of history. She emphasizes that this message is what it’s important for young people to understand.

26:25Copy video clip URL Edelman shares how the people — including herself — viewed the sit-ins which they did during the Civil Rights movement; “it was enormously liberating,” she says. Edelman then goes on to tell an anecdote about meeting young people involved in ending apartheid in South Africa and how she saw herself in them.

28:15Copy video clip URL Edelman then shares a few more of her experiences in South Africa, and how she came to understand the movement there— how it was similar and how it was different. She speaks to the importance of the adults of these movements. “It never occurred to us that we were not going to change the world,” she says of the excitement of the struggle.

30:30Copy video clip URL Zinn was a friend, an advisor, and an observer, Edelman says in the context of the Civil Rights movement.

31:14Copy video clip URL The tape cuts suddenly.

 

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