Howard Zinn

Historian

Howard Zinn was born on August 24th, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York, United States and is the Historian from United States. Discover Howard Zinn's biography, age, height, physical stats, dating/affair, family, hobbies, education, career updates, and networth at the age of 87 years old.

Date of Birth
August 24, 1922
Nationality
United States
Place of Birth
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Death Date
Jan 27, 2010 (age 87)
Zodiac Sign
Virgo
Profession
Historian, Historian Of The Modern Age, Human Rights Activist, Journalist, Labor Historian, Pacifist, Peace Activist, Playwright, Political Scientist, University Teacher, Writer
Howard Zinn Height, Weight, Eye Color and Hair Color

At 87 years old, Howard Zinn has this physical status:

Height
187cm
Weight
Not Available
Hair Color
Grey
Eye Color
Not Available
Build
Average
Measurements
Not Available
Howard Zinn Religion, Education, and Hobbies
Religion
Not Available
Hobbies
Not Available
Education
New York University (BA), Columbia University (MA, PhD)
Howard Zinn Spouse(s), Children, Affair, Parents, and Family
Spouse(s)
Roslyn Shechter, ​ ​(m. 1944; died 2008)​
Children
2, including Jeff
Dating / Affair
Not Available
Parents
Not Available
About Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was an American historian, playwright, and socialist thinker.

He was chair of the history and social sciences department at Spelman College, and a political science professor at Boston University.

Zinn wrote over 20 books, including his best-selling and influential A People's History of the United States.

In 2007, he published a version of it for younger readers, A Young People's History of the United States.Zinn described himself as "something of an anarchist, something of a socialist.

Maybe a democratic socialist." He wrote extensively about the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement, and labor history of the United States.

His memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (Beacon Press, 2002), was also the title of a 2004 documentary about Zinn's life and work.

Zinn died of a heart attack in 2010, at age 87.

Life and career

Zinn was born to a Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn on August 24, 1922. His father, Eddie Zinn, born in Austria-Hungary, immigrated to the U.S. with his brother Samuel before the outbreak of World War I. His mother, Jenny (Rabinowitz) Zinn, emigrated from the Eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk. His parents first became acquainted as workers at the same factory. His father worked as a ditch digger and window cleaner during the Great Depression. His father and mother ran a neighborhood candy store for a brief time, barely getting by. For many years, his father was in the waiters' union and worked as a waiter for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Both parents were factory workers with limited education when they met and married, and there were no books or magazines in the series of apartments where they raised their children. Zinn's parents introduced him to literature by sending 10 cents plus a coupon to the New York Post for each of the 20 volumes of Charles Dickens' collected works. As a young man, Zinn made the acquaintance of several young Communists from his Brooklyn neighborhood. They invited him to a political rally being held in Times Square. Despite it being a peaceful rally, mounted police charged the marchers. Zinn was hit and knocked unconscious. This would have a profound effect on his political and social outlook.

He also studied creative writing at Thomas Jefferson High School in a special program established by principal and poet Elias Lieberman.

Zinn initially opposed entry into World War II, influenced by his friends, by the results of the Nye Committee, and by his ongoing reading. However, these feelings shifted as he learned more about fascism and its rise in Europe. The book Sawdust Caesar had a particularly large impact through its depiction of Mussolini. Thus, after graduating from high school in 1940, Zinn took the Civil Service exam and became an apprentice shipfitter in the New York Navy Yard at the age of 18. Concerns about low wages and hazardous working conditions compelled Zinn and several other apprentices to form the Apprentice Association. At the time, apprentices were excluded from trade unions and thus had little bargaining power, to which the Apprentice Association was their answer. The head organizers of the association, which included Zinn himself, would meet once a week outside of work to discuss strategy and read books that at the time were considered radical. Zinn was the Activities Director for the group. His time in this group would tremendously influence his political views and created for him an appreciation for unions.

Eager to fight fascism, Zinn joined the United States Army Air Corps during World War II and became an officer. He was assigned as a bombardier in the 490th Bombardment Group, bombing targets in Berlin, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. As bombardier, Zinn dropped napalm bombs in April 1945 on Royan, a seaside resort in western France. The anti-war stance Zinn developed later was informed, in part, by his experiences.

On a post-doctoral research mission nine years later, Zinn visited the resort near Bordeaux where he interviewed residents, reviewed municipal documents, and read wartime newspaper clippings at the local library. In 1966, Zinn returned to Royan after which he gave his fullest account of that research in his book, The Politics of History. On the ground, Zinn learned that the aerial bombing attacks in which he participated had killed more than a thousand French civilians as well as some German soldiers hiding near Royan to await the war's end, events that are described "in all accounts" he found as "une tragique erreur" that leveled a small but ancient city and "its population that was, at least officially, friend, not foe." In The Politics of History, Zinn described how the bombing was ordered—three weeks before the war in Europe ended—by military officials who were, in part, motivated more by the desire for their own career advancement than in legitimate military objectives. He quotes the official history of the U.S. Army Air Forces' brief reference to the Eighth Air Force attack on Royan and also, in the same chapter, to the bombing of Plzeň in what was then Czechoslovakia. The official history stated that the Skoda works in Pilsen "received 500 well-placed tons", and that "because of a warning sent out ahead of time the workers were able to escape, except for five persons. "The Americans received a rapturous welcome when they liberated the city.

Zinn wrote:

Zinn said his experience as a wartime bombardier, combined with his research into the reasons for, and effects of the bombing of Royan and Pilsen, sensitized him to the ethical dilemmas faced by G.I.s during wartime. Zinn questioned the justifications for military operations that inflicted massive civilian casualties during the Allied bombing of cities such as Dresden, Royan, Tokyo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, Hanoi during the War in Vietnam, and Baghdad during the war in Iraq and the civilian casualties during bombings in Afghanistan during the war there. In his pamphlet, Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence written in 1995, he laid out the case against targeting civilians with aerial bombing.

Six years later, he wrote:

After World War II, Zinn attended New York University on the GI Bill, graduating with a B.A. in 1951. At Columbia University, he earned an M.A. (1952) and a Ph.D. in history with a minor in political science (1958). His master's thesis examined the Colorado coal strikes of 1914. His doctoral dissertation Fiorello LaGuardia in Congress was a study of Fiorello LaGuardia's congressional career, and it depicted "the conscience of the twenties" as LaGuardia fought for public power, the right to strike, and the redistribution of wealth by taxation. "His specific legislative program," Zinn wrote, "was an astonishingly accurate preview of the New Deal." It was published by the Cornell University Press for the American Historical Association. Fiorello LaGuardia in Congress was nominated for the American Historical Association's Beveridge Prize as the best English-language book on American history.

His professors at Columbia included Harry Carman, Henry Steele Commager, and David Donald. But it was Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter's The American Political Tradition that made the most lasting impression. Zinn regularly included it in his lists of recommended readings, and, after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, Zinn wrote, "If Richard Hofstadter were adding to his book The American Political Tradition, in which he found both 'conservative' and 'liberal' Presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, maintaining for dear life the two critical characteristics of the American system, nationalism and capitalism, Obama would fit the pattern."

In 1960–61, Zinn was a post-doctoral fellow in East Asian Studies at Harvard University.

Zinn was professor of history at Spelman College in Atlanta from 1956 to 1963, and visiting professor at both the University of Paris and University of Bologna. At the end of the academic year in 1963, Zinn was fired from Spelman for insubordination. His dismissal came from Dr. Albert Manley, the first African-American president of that college, who felt Zinn was radicalizing Spelman students.

In 1964, he accepted a position at Boston University (BU), after writing two books and participating in the Civil Rights Movement in the South. His classes in civil liberties were among the most popular at the university with as many as 400 students subscribing each semester to the non-required class. A professor of political science, he taught at BU for 24 years and retired in 1988 at age 66.

"He had a deep sense of fairness and justice for the underdog. But he always kept his sense of humor. He was a happy warrior," said Caryl Rivers, journalism professor at BU. Rivers and Zinn were among a group of faculty members who in 1979 defended the right of the school's clerical workers to strike and were threatened with dismissal after refusing to cross a picket line.

Zinn came to believe that the point of view expressed in traditional history books was often limited. Biographer Martin Duberman noted that when he was asked directly if he was a Marxist, Zinn replied, "Yes, I'm something of a Marxist." He especially was influenced by the liberating vision of the young Marx in overcoming alienation, and disliked what he perceived to be Marx's later dogmatism. In later life he moved more toward anarchism.

He wrote a history text, A People's History of the United States, to provide other perspectives on American history. The book depicts the struggles of Native Americans against European and U.S. conquest and expansion, slaves against slavery, unionists and other workers against capitalists, women against patriarchy, and African-Americans for civil rights. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1981.

In the years since the first edition of A People's History was published in 1980, it has been used as an alternative to standard textbooks in many college history courses, and it is one of the most widely known examples of critical pedagogy. The New York Times Book Review stated in 2006 that the book "routinely sells more than 100,000 copies a year."

In 2004, Zinn published Voices of a People's History of the United States with Anthony Arnove. Voices is a sourcebook of speeches, articles, essays, poetry and song lyrics by the people themselves whose stories are told in A People's History.

In 2008, the Zinn Education Project was launched to support educators using A People's History of the United States as a source for middle and high school history. The project was started when William Holtzman, a former student of Zinn who wanted to bring Zinn's lessons to students around the country, provided the financial backing to allow two other organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change to coordinate the project. The project hosts a website with hundreds of free downloadable lesson plans to complement A People's History of the United States.

The People Speak, released in 2010, is a documentary movie based on A People's History of the United States and inspired by the lives of ordinary people who fought back against oppressive conditions over the course of the history of the United States. The film, narrated by Zinn, includes performances by Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Viggo Mortensen, Josh Brolin, Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei, Don Cheadle, and Sandra Oh.

From 1956 through 1963, Zinn chaired the Department of History and Social Sciences at Spelman College. He participated in the Civil Rights Movement and lobbied with historian August Meier "to end the practice of the Southern Historical Association of holding meetings at segregated hotels."

While at Spelman, Zinn served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and wrote about sit-ins and other actions by SNCC for The Nation and Harper's. In 1964, Beacon Press published his book SNCC: The New Abolitionists.

In 1964 Zinn, with the SNCC, began developing an educational program so that the 200 volunteer SNCC civil rights workers in the South, many of whom were college dropouts, could continue with their civil rights work and at the same time be involved in an educational system. Up until then many of the volunteers had been dropping out of school so they could continue their work with SNCC. Other volunteers had not spent much time in college. The program had been endorsed by the SNCC in December 1963 and was envisioned by Zinn as having a curriculum that ranged from novels to books about "major currents" in 20th-century world history, such as fascism, communism, and anti-colonial movements. This occurred while Zinn was in Boston.

Zinn also attended an assortment of SNCC meetings in 1964, traveling back and forth from Boston. One of those trips was to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in January 1964 to participate in a SNCC voter registration drive. The local newspaper, the Hattiesburg American, described the SNCC volunteers in town for the voter registration drive as "outside agitators" and told local blacks "to ignore whatever goes on, and interfere in no way..." At a mass meeting held during the visit to Hattiesburg, Zinn and another SNCC representative, Ella Baker, emphasized the risks that went along with their efforts, a subject probably in their minds since a well-known civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, had been murdered getting out of his car in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi, only six months earlier. Evers had been the state field secretary for the NAACP.

Zinn was also involved in what became known as Freedom Summer in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. Freedom Summer involved bringing 1,000 college students to Mississippi to work for the summer in various roles as civil rights activists. Part of the program involved organizing "Freedom Schools". Zinn's involvement included helping to develop the curriculum for the Freedom Schools. He was also concerned that bringing 1,000 college students to Mississippi to work as civil rights activists could lead to violence and killings. As a consequence, Zinn recommended approaching Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and President Lyndon Johnson to request protection for the young civil rights volunteers. Protection was not forthcoming. Planning for the summer went forward under the umbrella of the SNCC, the Congress of Racial Equality ("CORE") and the Council of Federated Organizations ("COFO").

On June 20, 1964, just as civil rights activists were beginning to arrive in Mississippi, CORE activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were en route to investigate the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church in Neshoba County when two carloads of KKK members led by deputy sheriff Cecil Price abducted and murdered them. Two months later, after their bodies were located, Zinn and other representatives of the SNCC attended a memorial service for the three at the ruins of Mount Zion Methodist Church.

Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd mentoring student activists, among them Alice Walker, who would later write The Color Purple, and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. Edelman identified Zinn as a major influence in her life and, in the same journal article, tells of his accompanying students to a sit-in at the segregated white section of the Georgia state legislature. Zinn also co-wrote a column in The Boston Globe with fellow activist Eric Mann, "Left Field Stands".

Although Zinn was a tenured professor, he was dismissed in June 1963 after siding with students in the struggle against segregation. As Zinn described in The Nation, though Spelman administrators prided themselves for turning out refined "young ladies", its students were likely to be found on the picket line, or in jail for participating in the greater effort to break down segregation in public places in Atlanta. Zinn's years at Spelman are recounted in his autobiography You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times. His seven years at Spelman College, Zinn said, "are probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me."

While living in Georgia, Zinn wrote that he observed 30 violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution in Albany, Georgia, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and equal protection under the law. In an article on the civil rights movement in Albany, Zinn described the people who participated in the Freedom Rides to end segregation, and the reluctance of President John F. Kennedy to enforce the law. Zinn said that the Justice Department under Robert F. Kennedy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, did little or nothing to stop the segregationists from brutalizing civil rights workers.

Zinn wrote about the struggle for civil rights, as both participant and historian. His second book, The Southern Mystique, was published in 1964, the same year as his SNCC: The New Abolitionists in which he describes how the sit-ins against segregation were initiated by students and, in that sense, were independent of the efforts of the older, more established civil rights organizations.

In 2005, forty-one years after he was sacked from Spelman, Zinn returned to the college, where he was given an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. He delivered the commencement address, titled "Against Discouragement", and said that "the lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies."

Zinn wrote one of the earliest books calling for the U.S. withdrawal from its war in Vietnam. Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was published by Beacon Press in 1967 based on his articles in Commonweal, The Nation, and Ramparts. In the opinion of Noam Chomsky, The Logic of Withdrawal was Zinn's most important book:

Zinn's diplomatic visit to Hanoi with Reverend Daniel Berrigan, during the Tet Offensive in January 1968, resulted in the return of three American airmen, the first American POWs released by the North Vietnamese since the U.S. bombing of that nation had begun. The event was widely reported in the news media and discussed in a variety of books including Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963–1975 by Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan. Zinn and the Berrigan brothers, Dan and Philip, remained friends and allies over the years.

Also in January 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war.

In December 1969, radical historians tried unsuccessfully to persuade the American Historical Association to pass an anti-Vietnam War resolution. "A debacle unfolded as Harvard historian (and AHA president in 1968) John Fairbank literally wrestled the microphone from Zinn's hands."

Daniel Ellsberg, a former RAND consultant who had secretly copied The Pentagon Papers, which described the history of the United States' military involvement in Southeast Asia, gave a copy to Howard and Roslyn Zinn. Along with Noam Chomsky, Zinn edited and annotated the copy of The Pentagon Papers that Senator Mike Gravel read into the Congressional Record and that was subsequently published by Beacon Press.

Announced on August 17 and published on October 10, 1971, this four-volume, relatively expensive set became the "Senator Gravel Edition", which studies from Cornell University and the Annenberg Center for Communication have labeled as the most complete edition of the Pentagon Papers to be published. The "Gravel Edition" was edited and annotated by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and included an additional volume of analytical articles on the origins and progress of the war, also edited by Chomsky and Zinn.

Zinn testified as an expert witness at Ellsberg's criminal trial for theft, conspiracy, and espionage in connection with the publication of the Pentagon Papers by The New York Times. Defense attorneys asked Zinn to explain to the jury the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II through 1963. Zinn discussed that history for several hours, and later reflected on his time before the jury.

Most of the jurors later said that they voted for acquittal. However, the federal judge who presided over the case dismissed it on grounds it had been tainted by the Nixon administration's burglary of the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

Zinn's testimony on the motivation for government secrecy was confirmed in 1989 by Erwin Griswold, who as U.S. solicitor general during the Nixon administration sued The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971 to stop publication. Griswold persuaded three Supreme Court justices to vote to stop The New York Times from continuing to publish the Pentagon Papers, an order known as "prior restraint" that has been held to be illegal under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The papers were simultaneously published in The Washington Post, effectively nullifying the effect of the prior restraint order. In 1989, Griswold admitted there had been no national security damage resulting from publication. In a column in The Washington Post, Griswold wrote: "It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive over-classification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another."

Zinn supported the G.I. anti-war movement during the U.S. war in Vietnam. In the 2001 film Unfinished Symphony: Democracy and Dissent, Zinn provides a historical context for the 1971 anti-war march by Vietnam Veterans against the War. The marchers traveled from Bunker Hill near Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts, "which retraced Paul Revere's ride of 1775 and ended in the massive arrest of 410 veterans and civilians by the Lexington police." The film depicts "scenes from the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings, during which former G.I.s testified about "atrocities" they either participated in or said they had witnessed committed by U.S. forces in Vietnam. Zinn also took part in the 1971 May Day protests (with among others Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg).

In later years, Zinn was an adviser to the Disarm Education Fund.

Zinn opposed the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq and wrote several books about it. In an interview with The Brooklyn Rail he said,

He asserted that the U.S. would end Gulf War II when resistance within the military increased in the same way resistance within the military contributed to ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. Zinn compared the demand by a growing number of contemporary U.S. military families to end the war in Iraq to parallel demands "in the Confederacy in the Civil War, when the wives of soldiers rioted because their husbands were dying and the plantation owners were profiting from the sale of cotton, refusing to grow grains for civilians to eat."

Zinn believed that U.S. President George W. Bush and followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was personally responsible for beheadings and numerous attacks designed to cause civil war in Iraq, should be considered moral equivalents.

Jean-Christophe Agnew, Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, told the Yale Daily News in May 2007 that Zinn's historical work is "highly influential and widely used". He observed that it is not unusual for prominent professors such as Zinn to weigh in on current events, citing a resolution opposing the war in Iraq that was recently ratified by the American Historical Association. Agnew added: "In these moments of crisis, when the country is split—so historians are split."

Zinn described himself as "something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist." He suggested looking at socialism in its full historical context as a popular, positive idea that got a bad name from its association with Soviet Communism. In Madison, Wisconsin, in 2009, Zinn said:

On July 30, 2010, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) releasing a file with 423 pages of information on Howard Zinn's life and activities. During the height of McCarthyism in 1949, the FBI first opened a domestic security investigation on Zinn (FBI File # 100-360217), based on Zinn's activities in what the agency considered to be communist front groups, such as the American Labor Party, and informant reports that Zinn was an active member of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Zinn denied ever being a member and said that he had participated in the activities of various organizations which might be considered Communist fronts, but that his participation was motivated by his belief that in this country people had the right to believe, think, and act according to their own ideals. According to journalist Chris Hedges, Zinn "steadfastly refused to cooperate in the anti-communist witchhunts in the 1950s."

Later in the 1960s, as a result of Zinn's campaigning against the Vietnam War and his communicating with Martin Luther King Jr. (prior to disavowing any communication with communists) the FBI designated him a high security risk to the country by adding him to the Security Index, a list of American citizens who could be summarily arrested if a state of emergency were to be declared. The FBI memos also show that they were concerned with Zinn's repeated criticism of the FBI for failing to protect blacks against white mob violence. Zinn's daughter said she was not surprised by the files; "He always knew they had a file on him."

Zinn married Roslyn Shechter in 1944. They remained married until her death in 2008. They had a daughter, Myla, and a son, Jeff. Myla is the wife of mindfulness instructor Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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