Jump to content

Howard Zinn RIP

Chicopee John

Recommended Posts


'People's History' author Howard Zinn dies at 87

By Hillel Italie AP National Writer / January 28, 2010


Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist "A People's History of the United States" became a million-selling alternative to mainstream texts and a favorite of such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck, died Wednesday. He was 87.



Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, "A People's History" was -- fittingly -- a people's best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including "Voices of a People's History," a volume for young people and a graphic novel


"I can't think of anyone who had such a powerful and benign influence," said the linguist and fellow activist Noam Chomsky, a close friend of Zinn's. "His historical work changed the way millions of people saw the past."


At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, "A People's History" told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.


Even liberal historians were uneasy with Zinn. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: "I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian."


In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Zinn acknowledged he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter -- not the last -- of a new kind of history.


"There's no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete," Zinn said. "My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times."


"A People's History" had some famous admirers, including Matt Damon and Affleck. The two grew up near Zinn, were family friends and gave the book a plug in their Academy Award-winning screenplay for "Good Will Hunting." When Affleck nearly married Jennifer Lopez, Zinn was on the guest list.


"He taught me how valuable -- how necessary dissent was to democracy and to America itself," Affleck said in a statement. "He taught that history was made by the everyman, not the elites. I was lucky enough to know him personally and I will carry with me what I learned from him -- and try to impart it to my own children -- in his memory."


Oliver Stone was a fan, as well as Springsteen, whose bleak "Nebraska" album was inspired in part by "A People's History." The book was the basis of a 2007 documentary, "Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind," and even showed up on "The Sopranos," in the hand of Tony's son, A.J.


Zinn himself was an impressive-looking man, tall and rugged with wavy hair. An experienced public speaker, he was modest and engaging in person, more interested in persuasion than in confrontation.



Born in New York in 1922, Zinn was the son of Jewish immigrants who as a child lived in a rundown area in Brooklyn and responded strongly to the novels of Charles Dickens. At age 17, urged on by some young Communists in his neighborhood, he attended a political rally in Times Square.


"Suddenly, I heard the sirens sound, and I looked around and saw the policemen on horses galloping into the crowd and beating people. I couldn't believe that," he told the AP.


"And then I was hit. I turned around and I was knocked unconscious. I woke up sometime later in a doorway, with Times Square quiet again, eerie, dreamlike, as if nothing had transpired. I was ferociously indignant. ... It was a very shocking lesson for me."


War continued his education. Eager to help wipe out the Nazis, Zinn joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and even persuaded the local draft board to let him mail his own induction notice. He flew missions throughout Europe, receiving an Air Medal, but he found himself questioning what it all meant. Back home, he gathered his medals and papers, put them in a folder and wrote on top: "Never again."


He attended New York University and Columbia University, where he received a doctorate in history. In 1956, he was offered the chairmanship of the history and social sciences department at Spelman College, an all-black women's school in then-segregated Atlanta.


During the civil rights movement, Zinn encouraged his students to request books from the segregated public libraries and helped coordinate sit-ins at downtown cafeterias. Zinn also published several articles, including a then-rare attack on the Kennedy administration for being too slow to protect blacks.


He was loved by students -- among them a young Alice Walker, who later wrote "The Color Purple" -- but not by administrators. In 1963, Spelman fired him for "insubordination." (Zinn was a critic of the school's non-participation in the civil rights movement.) His years at Boston University were marked by opposition to the Vietnam War and by feuds with the school's president, John Silber.


Zinn retired in 1988, spending his last day of class on the picket line with students in support of an on-campus nurses' strike. Over the years, he continued to lecture at schools and to appear at rallies and on picket lines.


"The happy thing about Howard was that in the last years he could gain satisfaction that his contributions were so impressive and recognized," Chomsky said. "He could hardly keep up with all the speaking invitations."


Besides "A People's History," Zinn wrote several books, including "The Southern Mystique," "LaGuardia in Congress" and the memoir, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train," the title of a 2004 documentary about Zinn that Damon narrated. He also wrote three plays.


One of Zinn's last public writings was a brief essay, published last week in The Nation, about the first year of the Obama administration.


"I've been searching hard for a highlight," he wrote, adding that he wasn't disappointed because he never expected a lot from Obama.


"I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president -- which means, in our time, a dangerous president -- unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."


Zinn's longtime wife and collaborator, Roslyn, died in 2008. They had two children, Myla and Jeff.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry I wont place any man upon a pedastal, Im sure their is some good to these men in some way, but IMO: Our founding fathers had a greater vision for this country than socialist sympathizers, the bio below on another man is quite comparable.




******* ***** ******** was born in Chicago, January 30, 1909, the child of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Benjamin and Sarah (Tannenbaum). Saul's parents were divorced when he was 13 years old, and he went to live with his father who had moved to Los Angeles. He later returned to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago from which he earned a doctorate in archeology in 1930. Upon graduation he won a fellowship from the university's sociology department which enabled him to study criminology. In 1931 he went to work as a sociologist for the Illinois Division of Juvenile Research while also serving at the Institute for Criminal Research and the Illinois Prison Board. At this time he married Helene Simon, with whom he had two children, a son and a daughter. His wife died in a drowning accident in 1947.


In 1936 ******** left his positions with the state agencies to cofound the Back-of-the-Yards Neighborhood Council. This was his first effort to build a neighborhood citizen reform group, a form of activity which would earn Alinsky a reputation as a radical reformer.


Back-of-the-Yards was a largely Irish-Catholic community on Chicago's southwest side near the famous Union Stockyards, which had been deteriorating for many years. ******** organized his neighborhood council among local residents willing to unite to protest their community's decline and to pressure city hall for assistance. The council had great success in stabilizing the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood and restoring the morale of local residents.


With this success behind him, ****** in 1939 (with funds from the Marshall Field Foundation) established the Industrial Areas Foundation with himself as executive director to bring his method of reform to other declining urban neighborhoods. His approach depended on uniting ordinary citizens around immediate grievances in their neighborhoods and stirring them to protest vigorously and even disruptively. In ******* first book, Reveille for Radicals (1946), he explained how neighborhood residents could be effectively organized as activists for reform.


For many years ******** neighborhood reform work disappeared from public attention, and he became best known instead for his 1949 biography of the famous labor leader John L. Lewis. ******** admired Lewis because he had proved especially adept at organization building and using mass pressure to win reforms for his followers. When a wave of reform swept the American nation in the 1960s ******* again commanded public attention. A critic of many of the decade's young radicals who spoke the language of violence, ******** instead called on reformers to be more practical and to use the self-interest of ordinary citizens as the primary force for increased political participation. "A guy has to be a political idiot," he told radicals, "to say all power comes out of the barrel of a gun when the other side has the guns." For *******, power came from stable local organizations and political participation by aroused citizens fighting for their rights.


President Lyndon B. Johnson's "war on poverty" offered ******** a grand opportunity to put his ideas about neighborhood reform into practice. In the mid-1960s he founded a neighborhood (TWO), which the journalist Charles Silberman called "the most significant social experiment going on among blacks in America today." Soon thereafter ******* moved to Rochester, New York, where his Industrial Areas Foundation organized local African American residents to pressure the city's largest employer, the Eastman Kodak Company, to hire more African Americans and also give them a role in picking the company's employees. Simultaneously he participated in a federally-funded leadership training institute at Syracuse University which had been created as part of the "war on poverty."


But ******** technique of rubbing a community's sores raw alienated some leaders, and in 1967 Alinsky found himself without a contract. He promptly labeled President Johnson's policies "a huge political pork barrel." At the same time he found it increasingly difficult to work with local African American groups which were then being swept up in the concept of "Black power" and who found it irksome to function under white leadership. Thus at the end of the 1960s ******** turned to training white middle-class citizens to organize and protest against the deterioration of their marginal urban and suburban neighborhoods. Always on the move, he organized white worker councils in Chicago, steelworkers in Pittsburgh, Indians in Canada, and Chicanos in the Southwest, where he influenced Cesar Chavez, who was later to found the first successful labor organization among California farm workers.


In 1971 ******* published his third book, **************: A Political Primer for Practical Radicals, in which he distilled his basic ideas concerning neighborhood reform. A year later, on June 12, 1972, he died of a heart attack near his home in Carmel, California, leaving his third wife Irene (his second marriage in 1947 to the former Ruth Graham had ended in divorce in 1970).



Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...