Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Remembering Howard Zinn, Progressive Activist And Historian

Howard Zinn, Boston University historian and civil rights and peace activist whose book "A People's History of the United States" (1980) was written from the perspective of those who struggled for their rights, died on Wednesday at 87. Zinn wrote in a clear style that took account of laborers, women, African Americans, Native Americans and others whom he felt were overlooked in favor of the powerful. From Boston.com:

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. "A People’s History of the United States" (1980), his best-known book, 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 union organizers of the 1930s.

Zinn, who served as a bombardier during World War II, coupled his writing with his activism:

Dr. Zinn...served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at many rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

...On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did.

I heard Zinn speak once, and he emphasized that the struggle against injustice will continue regardless of who is in power–and that positive change comes from the bottom up. This activism and optimism animated Zinn's life and writings. If you haven't read "A People's History of the United States," I recommend that you do so immediately. To read articles by Zinn from the AlterNet archive, click here.

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