Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn has died at the age of 89

From The Boston Globe:
Howard Zinn, historian who challenged status quo, dies at 87
January 27, 2010 05:40 PM
By Mark Feeney, Globe Staff

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and a leading faculty critic of BU president John Silber, died of a heart attack today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling, his family said. He was 87.

"His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our lives," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, once wrote of Dr. Zinn. "When action has been called for, one could always be confident that he would be on the front lines, an example and trustworthy guide."

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. Dr. Zinn's best-known book, "A People's History of the United States" (1980), had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and the union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and Silber. Dr. Zinn twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers "who poison the well of academe."

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against "the BU Five" were soon dropped, however.

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before joining the Army Air Force during World War II. Serving as a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, he won the Air Medal and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University as a 27-year-old freshman on the GI Bill. Professor Zinn, who had married Roslyn Shechter in 1944, worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor's degree from NYU, followed by master's and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women's institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were the novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had," and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.

Rest of obituary at link above.

RIP, Dr. Zinn.

I believe everyone should read "A People's History of the United States".

1 comment:

Brian said...


RIP Howard Zinn.

Damn shame that the Zinn's among us aren't allowed nearly the same amount of airtime as the figures on the Right. Pat Buchanan, Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan & Co. are shoved down the throats of Americans every week, subsidized & facilitated by big media.

One of the thinkers who helped shape my views (along with others.....) although I don't ascribe to all of his positions. Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, (and others) = great Progressive thinkers. But you never hear/see them in mainstream media. And if you do see a Progressive, he or she is some lightweight media pundit that a producer snatched just to sit in for the be fish food for piranhas. Very rarely do you see the real Progressive heavyweights on the big networks. It's always the other side rammed down our collective throats...on our TV sets everyday, which is why Americans are so damn confused - the Right wing message or Right wing narrative that they get runs contrary to the more Progressive spirit that many have inside...a spirit that some don't even realize they have. The Country is slightly right of center...but it has been made that way artificially, via the American media and the polluted message from the Right. The natural position of most Americans is centrist or a little left of center.

Like I have stated many times... if Progressives could get their message out on a level media playing field, Progressives would win, PERIOD. (and the Right knows it...which is why they are so paranoid and have to resort to lies, distortions, etc. The message/info war for them is is all they have. If they lose that, they lose the Country...which is why they work so hard to do what they do.) Most Americans embrace core Progressive principles (not the stuff on the periphery ....i'm referring to the core principles). WAPO had a survey a little while ago showing that when the Health Care Reform plan was clearly explained to/understood by voters... most ended up supporting it (when they had been against it).

I may have links to some Zinn speeches somewhere... might be able to dig them up.