Howard Zinn -- Political Activist, Teacher, Icon, Author of The People's History of the United States -- Dead at 88

BlogHer Original Post

Howard Zinn, progressive, radical, teacher, activist and historian, has died at age 88. Zinn is widely published but perhaps best known for his work A People's History of the United States. This book changed the way people viewed American history, unmasking the founding fathers as slaveholders and pointing to the post-occupation history of America as the history of groups rising up for change -- from early labor movements to sharecroppers' uprisings. A People's History of the United States Online Version gives a good way to leaf through one of the most important books on history of the 20th century. It was originally published in 1980 and has been updated through 2003. Zinn faces honestly the slave-holding and violence of Columbus, the position of women and the plots to eliminate Native Americans.

Every history is written with the author's own perspective. Zinn removed the perspective of established histories to see events through the eyes of the people, not the politicians.

Howard Zinn removed more of the trappings that had literally "whitewashed" American history. Here is a list of quotes for those of you who may not have known Zinn. He was a teacher at Boston University, a fiercely anti-war activist and a man who stood up for the truth. He was arrested and beaten in demonstrations against Vietnam, threatened with ousting from his teaching position and denounced by conservatives everywhere. Howard Zinn believed passionately in the cultivation of critical thought and in the development of an activist citizenry.

  • “In the United States today, the Declaration of Independence hangs on schoolroom walls, but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.”

  • “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

  • “The UN should arrange, as US forces leave, for an international group of peacekeepers and negotiators from the Arab countries to bring together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and work out a solution for self-governance that would give all three groups a share in political power. Simultaneously, the UN should arrange for shipments of food and medicine, from the United States and other countries, as well as engineers to help rebuild the country.”

  • “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

  • It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.

A couple of weeks ago, Mary Daly died.. Now Howard died. That is a lot of activism to lose in a month. I hear Bernice Johnson Reagon's song "They are falling all around me" performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock ...

They are falling all around me
They are falling all around me
They are falling all around me
The strongest leaves on my tree

Every paper brings the news that
Every paper brings the news that
Every paper brings the news that
The teachers of my life are moving on

Oh, death comes and rests so heavy
Death comes and rests so heavy
Death comes and rests so heavy
Your face I will never see, never see you anymore


It is your path I walk
It is your song I sing
It is your load I take on
It is your air I breathe
It's the record you set that makes me go on
It's your strength that helps me stand

Read up on Howard Zinn if you have not yet done so. Listen to him on YouTube speak about war and human aggression. Let his words galvanize you to action, to critical thought.

Yes, big voices are moving on. But these voices would surely remind us, in the words of Mother Jones, to “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.“

Progressive activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia had an e-mail conversation about upcoming activist plans the day before Zinn died. In the Center's newsletter the day of Zinn's death, Arthur said to his departed friend of over thirty years:

"And -- dear dear Howard, I wish you a joyful New Year making trouble for the Authorities in Heaven. If ever the memories, the teachings, of a tzaddik - a practitioner of tzedek, justice - could bring blessing to those who are still scrabbling for justice on this stricken earth, it's the memories and teachings you left us.
Shalom, salaam, shantih - peace!


Blog Commentaries
Fannie said:

Upon reading it, for the first time in my life I consciously realized two things. The accounts of history I had learned up to that point had points of view and that history could have been written from other points of view. Although I had grown up with vaguely unsettling thoughts about the people, and by people I mean mostly men, and events I learned about in Real History courses, reading Zinn began to give me the words, ideas, and language to articulate- perhaps most of all to myself- that information is and was missing from dominant historical narratives.

Janinsanfran provides some new quotes from Zinn and says -

"The activist historian, who managed to somehow mesh unflinching integrity with hope, will be missed."

Maggie said:

This man’s voice is now stilled. His unending celebration of the American spirit as found in ordinary Americans, his relentless encouragement to ordinary Americans to remember, and follow, this spirit, is perfect for us to know and realize at this very time. Informed citizens, presently “growing” a populist uprising, should know Zinn’s voice, should know of ordinary citizen wisdom and courage in our history.

Recorded Speech:
This is a 12 minute speech given by Zinn at the 92nd St Y in NYC as an introduction to "the newly released, updated and illustrated 'A Young People’s History of the United States' that highlights the words of America’s youngest rebels, dissenters and visionaries, from our past and present."

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also shakes her soul at Time's Fool


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